Colombia’s Comptroller General’s Office blocked emergency credit payments meant for farmers, claiming that 90% of the funds went to major agricultural firms.
The suspension made “Colombia Agro Produce” the second emergency aid program decreed by the government of President Ivan Duque to be put on hold due to fraud suspicions.
A program to deliver emergency stipends to Colombia’s poorest inhabitants was also put on hold leaving 1,8 million of 3 million people starving, according to weekly Semana.
The Colombia Agro Produce scandal put Agriculture Minister Rodolfo Zea in a tight spot as much as similar irregularities with the “Agro Ingreso Seguro” put his predecessor Andrés Felipe Arias in prison.
In a warning issued last week, the Comptroller General’s Office said that $52.8 million (COP214 billion) of the $56 million (COP226 billion) in credit lines had gone to agro-industrial firms and traders and that only $2 million (COP8.3 billion) had gone to medium-sized agricultural firms and $1 million (COP4.2 billion) to small farmers.
The government’s agricultural stimulation fund, Finagro, initially denied the claim of the Comptroller General’s Office, claiming that “Colombia Agro Produce extended 1,182 loans: 897 for small, 208 for medium and 77 for large producers.”
Finagro said it was complying with the guideline that “no less than 40% of the total value of the resources allocated for the subsidy on interest of credit shall be allocated to small producers, and in no case may more than 20% of these resources be allocated to large producers.”
But after Congress announced that it was also investigating Agriculture Minister Rodolfo Zea and Finagro president Airo Estrada, the latter said that “the beneficiaries had requested the suspension” of the aid program and would return the funds.
The investigator in charge of the alleged misallocation of funds, Gabriel Romero Sundheim, responded that the Comptroller General’s Office’s would continue to investigate “the implementation of controls prior to access to subsidy resources and subsequent controls to establish that the loans are used as intended.”
The Comptroller General’s Office teamed up with the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office earlier this month to monitor possible corruption after the government announced major aid packages in response to the coronavirus crisis.