Millers sue government over maize prices
The Grain Millers Association in conjunction with the Grain and Oil Seed Traders Association have taken the government to the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) seeking an order to have the gazetted maize prices declared invalid and unconstitutional.
BY CHARLES LAITON
On Friday, the two associations filed a ConCourt application challenging Statutory Instrument (Minimum Grain Producer Prices) Regulations 2014 (SI 122 of 2014), arguing that the legal instrument was constitutionally invalid and violated their rights as enshrined in sections 56 (1) as read with sections 134 (b) and 194 (1) (e) of the Constitution.
Agriculture Mechanisation and Irrigation Development minister Joseph Made (pictured right), Attorney-General and Agricultural Marketing Authority were cited as respondents in the application.
The looming court battle followed an announcement by the government sometime in April this year stating that Cabinet had approved a maize producer price of no less than US$390 per tonne for the 2014/15 marketing season.
Early this month, the associations said, the Agricultural Marketing Authority threatened to prosecute anyone who purchased grain at a price lower than that stipulated in the April’s government gazette.
The associations further said that prior to the gazetting of the maize prices by the government, its members had bought maize from various producers and farmers for prices that ranged from US$280 to US$300 per tonne.
They argued that they were not bound by the government’s gazetted price of US$390 per tonne of maize as that only applied to the State’s strategic grain buyer — Grain marketing Board (GMB).
They added that the price was announced after they had already agreed on new prices with contract farmers.
The associations said their members, who were buying maize at negotiated prices ranging from US$280 to US$300 per tonne, were taken aback when Made announced this month that anyone who purchased grain at a price lower than the stipulated price would be prosecuted.
“At the time the 2nd respondent [Made] announced the US$390 per tonne floor maize producer price, such did not apply to the applicants and their constituent members. Therefore the legal regime at that time did not require them to pay such a price and left them at liberty to conclude prices that were lower,” the associations said.
“The first applicant’s interpretation of operation and import of statutory instrument 122/14 retrospectively criminalises the applicant’s member’s previously legal conduct. Such is constitutionally offensive as it violates the protection of the law provision.”
Turning to the issues of the marketing season, the associations said SI 122 of 2014 was “impermissibly vague” since it did not define when the agricultural marketing seasons would begin and when it would end.
“This is a material issue as the said instrument clearly states that the 2nd respondent [Made] can only announce floor prices at the beginning of the marketing season. The said instrument does not state what happens if the 2nd respondent does not set the minimum price, it is to be assumed that the producer and buyers can set their own prices, or does it mean that the buyers and producers revert to the prices of the previous marketing season,” the associations asked.
“Considering the criminal penalties levied in terms of section 4 of SI 122 of 2014 such vagueness is constitutionally impermissible and for such reason the SI should be quashed.”
The cited respondents are yet to respond to the application and the matter is likely to be heard when the ConCourt opens for the third term next month.
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