Ethiopia’s agriculture ministry on spotlight on UNDP funds misuse; TPLF denies, as usual, no official investigation (gov’t/UN) & thus the buck stops there!

28 Apr

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
The Reporter

A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) funded project at the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources has been under the spotlight in connection with the misuse of a one-million-dollar worth laboratory renovation project, it was learnt.

Sources close to the matter informed The Reporter that UNDP availed the fund to aid the ministry renovate and upgrade one of its laboratories; tSoil Testing Laboratory Center. According to sources, the ministry has received the fund long ago to repair an old building in which the soil testing laboratory and equipment were stationed.

The claimants alleged that the ministry hired a California-based Digata Industries Inc. violating the formal bidding procedures exercised by public agencies in the country. Digata Industries, on its part is blamed for failing to deliver the renovation job. Hence, the company, without performing the required task and renovating the main building, has demolished and reconstructed old service quarters and left pocketing some 650,000 dollars, sources said.

Frenesh Mekuria, state Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources counter claimed denying any wrong doings. The state minister told The Reporter that it is true the renovation project was delayed. She, however, argued that the delay was due to another national project that the ministry was urgently required to undertake. A national flagship soil fertility mapping project, which encloses all the districts of the country, was given priority and that has affected the normal course of the renovation, she claimed. For that reason the ongoing renovation of the soil testing laboratory has been halted.

Back in 2014, the ministry inked a tripartite agreement with UNDP and Digata Industries, she recalled. The state minister admittedly said that Digata has been chosen based on its previous performances avoiding the bid process adding that it was conducted in a legal manner.

Regarding the 650,000 dollars paid to Digata Industries, the state minister opted to explain the payment modalities of both the ministry and the company shying away from either admitting or denying. She said that the ministry has paid both advance payments as well as payments for actual work that has been done. According to her, the construction of service quarters and some maintenance work have been undertaken.

Responding to questions emailed from The Reporter, regarding the types of procedures that where applied to approve the fund for the project, Communications Office of UNDP Ethiopia said: “All UNDP project funding and releases follow well-established procedures detailed in the project implementation manual and standard UN assistance framework modalities where financing is approved based on an annual workplan that is signed off by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation and UNDP along with the implementing ministry, in this case the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. All fund releases follow these procedures including the funding of the activities related to the renovations of the soil testing lab. The funding of the renovation is therefore fully in line with funding procedures and has been endorsed by all parties…”

UNDP added that the projects that received funding and releases are organized and executed within the development assistance framework agreed between all UN agencies and the Government of Ethiopia. When asked whether UNDP has received any complaints regarding the project, the communications office said that no complaints have been filed so far.

The state minister said that the renovation is due to resume soon and the government aims to make the soil testing lab a state-of-the-art center. Frenesh also claimed that the ministry is expanding the number of soil testing labs including 17 branches that have already been established.

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