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Harvesting in Menabe : abuses of power, intimidation and monopoly

Harvesting in Menabe : abuses of power, intimidation and monopoly

This article is the second of a series devoted to the Menabe region.

 

By Narson (pseudonym) and Mazava Volana (pseudonym).

 

This problem is not recent, it has been around for quite a while and operators of Menabe region have suffered for a long time. In recent years, this problem has been growing. It originated in the Ankilizato area, before reaching other districts of the Menabe region. Local and regional officials, business party, and regional trade services have all been aware of the former MP’s actions and have occasionally complained, but until recently nobody would change the situation by fear of retaliation.

 

Originating in Ankilizato

Ankilizato is a rural community in a large fertile plain and with a good water supply, allowing it to produce rice and corn. The capital of this community is located 90 kilometres east of Morondava, which is the heart of Menabe. It is crossed by the Highway n°34 and is 45 kilometers east of the Disctrict capital, Mahabo.

At first glance, Ankilizato appears as a rapidly growing area. The city has a fairly modern feel to it as it is endowed with large painted houses with some of them being built with a two-storey structure. Over the last three years the community has revealed its strong economic potential supported by its numerous exploitable resources. Moreover, the municipality is powered by the Migodo hydroelectric power plant. The population benefits from it by public lighting, as well as domestic power for those who can afford it. The drinking water supply issue has also been addressed thanks to seven wells drilled by a Chinese company, which were officially in working order on August 17th.  Ankilizato began to use these boreholes in February 2019.

However, for many people, Ankilizato is unfortunately associated with the infamous Raveloson’s family that has been monopolizing the production and transport industry in that area. Back in 2005, Ludovic Raveloson, also known as Leva or Deputy of Leva, began monopolizing the agricultural industry and more specifically rice and corn collection and transport when his, now late, father was appointed as mayor.

It came to a point where no other operator was able to harvest rice even if they were in possession of all the official document required by law authorizing them to do so. Many stratagems were used by Mr. Raveloson to achieve his ends including, harnessing the power of his father as mayor, mobilizing militias and granting loans to farmers during the lean season. He also weakened the peasants' bargaining power by fixing a purchasing price based upon a visual examination before cropping. He would then fix an arbitrary final price at the time of harvesting.  During our investigation, many people claimed that Mr. Raveloson is not paying any of the required fees for his collection activities, neither to the Anikilizato Municipality nor on the administrative levels – District and Region - where other payments are due.

Mr. Gilbert Romain, the former head of the Menabe region, told us that he had never seen “any trace of payment by Leva for the allowance due to the treasury of the Region.” Similarly, Mr. Le Blanc, the deputy mayor of Malaimbandy, mentioned during our interview that “this operator is not paying anything to the Municipality .” Only the mayor of the rural area of Ankilivalo, Mr. Gabriel Kaajaowalter, reports payments from Mr. Raveloson to their treasury. However, no physical evidence of these payments has been obtained, despite investigations at the Municipality. We visited the Ankilivalo Municipality several times for the purpose of our investigation, but we were unable to meet the mayor nor the accounting secretary-treasurer. Everyone we met during the course of our investigation, all of whom required anonymity, told us that they never noticed any payments of royalties, charges or fees from Mr. Raveloson. Nonetheless, the person in charge of the local highway tolls and the royalties’ collection,  told us that the former MP is paying the mandatory fees.

If it turns out that if the former MP is not paying due royalties, the shortfall for the various local administrative structures will hamper the development of the region. Yet, the law permits these authorities to demand payment. During an interview with the current MP, he told us that he manages to collect, depending on the weather conditions, between 2,500 and 4,000 tons of corn per year. With a royalty of 5 ariary per kilo of corn, the shortfall to the authorities for the five collection sites of the operator would thus represent up to 20 million ariary yearly.

 

A practice spreading throughout the District and the Menabe Region

Mr. Ludovic RAVELOSON was a candidate for the parliamentary elections of 2013, which he won. Using his newly acquired political power, he was able to increase his activity zone. He then became interested in the corn production sector after signing a major contract with a large beverage company in Madagascar. While his territory increased, his behaviour did not change and no other operator would dare to intrude his territory, even with a legal permission in hand.

"I firmly forbid other operators to collect corn in the area where I distribute seeds” admitted the MP operator. In fact, we discovered that he provides corn seeds to farmers who sign an exclusive contract with him for the collection of their produce. Getting hold of a copy of this contract has been difficult. The office of the Ankilivalo commune in particular does not have copies of those contracts. Mr. Ludovic RAVELOSON’s parliamentary assistant, who is supposedly in charge of all these contracts, has been entrusted with the task of providing us with a copy.

 

The former MP is apparently refusing to let other operators contact the corn farmers to whom he supplied seeds. However, did all corn producers in Mahabo and Morondava districts and in some villages such as Ankoraobato actually purchase their seeds from him? Other questions also remain unresolved. Why do all those who have been somehow affected by these actions seem to accept it? Can a simple contract give an operator control over an entire production sector? From a legal point of view, a contract commits only the parties who sign it, and gives no power to monopolize a whole sector.

The peasants’ fear is apparent. No one dared to speak openly about the reality of their commercial relationship with the operator, nor about the exact content of the written contract they had signed. None of the peasants in the villages of Sarodrano, Ankilivalo, Ankilizato, or Ankoraobato, that we met during our investigation have admitted to being in possession of a copy of the said contract.

 

« EMMOREG »

The name of EMMOREG is well-known, and people have strong feelings about it. However, in this case we are not referring to the Mixed Operational Headquarters of the Region. In fact, the name EMMOREG is used by the locals of Menabe – more specifically from Malaimbandy and Mahabo – to designate a group of young men supported by the MP operator. It is not clear how many young men compose this violent group run by the son of the former deputy. The farmers and operators we met told us that there are more than twenty members, while others estimate the group members to be as many as thirty. When asked to Mr. Ludovic RAVELOSON, he specified that the group is made of three to five young people he pays for his personal security and to which he refers as « Kalony .» The police and the district head of Mahabo are aware of the existence of this group, who are reputed to serve as Mr. RAVELOSON’s private militia.

Regardless of the number of individuals that make up this group, we know that each of its members is armed with a rifle. Its real function is not limited to mere protection, the operator is in fact using it to intimidate other operators and producers.

According to the information that has come to our attention, it is now forbidden to transport rice and corn produced locally outside MP operator’s territory. How can this be happening? Many complained that if they bring rice from the neighbouring area of Sarognanala, for their children studying in Mahabo for example, they are at high risk of being arrested. They must then drop the rice off their vehicle and pay an arbitrary fine to continue their journey; otherwise the "EMMOREG" will resort to violence. Today, in the opinion of those who took part in this investigation, the rice sector might have become somewhat liberalized, but the former MP and his son remain rather inflexible over corn.

One scale from a competing operator offering a better price, sabotaged by 'EMMOREG' on May 7, 2017, at Manamby.

 

Many people in Mahabo told us about the following incident: in May 2017, an operator from Morondava was planning to collect products at Manamby, a village in the commune of Ampanihy. The "EMMOREG" chased away the workers paid for the purchase of goods and damaged the scales they were going to use. Some time before this incident, a meeting had been organized in the presence of the Prefect of Morondava and the District Head of Mahabo, to open the collection of products by other operators. The "EMMOREG", led by the son of Mr. Ludovic RAVELOSON, reportedly arrested a collaborator of the collector from Morondava. Mr. RAVELOSON himself was present during this "arrest.” The detained operator was returning from the forest where he had bought products from farmers. On his way back, a roadblock forced him to unload the products he had just bought and to sell it at an unfair price. The loss caused by this forced sale generated a colossal debt for the collector, which remains financially crippling. Still in Magnamby, another operator carrying products he had just bought locally experienced the same fate. Only this time, warning shots were fired during the arrest. This operator kept the casings of the rifle rounds that were fired at him that day. Likewise, many other people in the region claim to have been victims of Mr. RAVELOSON’s actions.

The mayor of the Bemanonga commune, located eight kilometres east of Morondava, categorically refused to allow the former deputy to operate in his area. He considers unacceptable that the latter is refusing to pay the royalties to the municipality. “I will not allow Mr. Leva to sell or collect products in my jurisdiction until he pays his fees,” he told us. The MP operator then carried out an attack on Thursday, January 26 , 2017. As always the MP was accompanied by the "EMMOREG". The group was moving in three 4X4 vehicles and armed with rifles, some of which were military style. The mayor managed to escape by hiding in a neighbouring home. Mr. Raveloson’s son was armed with two guns that day. Local officials who witnessed this scene mediated by reaching out to the real EMMOREG from Morondava. This incident is well known to most of the locals and journalists of this area.

Competing operators are not the only ones suffering from these practices. The decentralized territorial communities are also victims of the former MP’s behaviour. Those communities suffer as the former MP does not pay the royalty. Consequently, they do not have sufficient funds to pay for all of their expenses their employee's salary.

When asked for the total amount of goods collected by the former MP from the different municipalities, none of them were able to respond. In fact, Mr. Raveloson’s agents are weighing out the products, purchasing and transporting independently without hindrance.

Two trucks of rice would leave Malaimbady each market day which represents two days a week during the production period. At Ankilivalo during the period of corn production, between April and July, four trucks loaded with goods would leave the area every day. Each of these trucks can carry up to 40 tons of grain.

The people we interviewed are afraid to comment on the MP operator’s behaviour. Moreover, one operator of Ankilizato, who was allegedly severally brutalized by the ex-Mp’s "EMMOREG", refused to talk to us by fear of retaliation.

The MP operator is allegedly not paying any fees to the municipalities. The commune of Malaimbandy is among those victims of the refusal to pay royalties. Moreover, their mayor had to run away following a conflict with the MP-operator. The amounts of rice collected and exported from this area are unknown in the absence of precise declarations. Those charged with collecting taxes on the market could not, or dare not to ask the MP operator for any details of his collecting practice.

 

The quantity of rice and corn produced in these areas remains unknown. Even the four tollbooths installed on the highway 34 by the Menabe officials to collect royalties cannot check the large trucks carrying products belonging to the MP operator. The mere mention of "merchandise of the deputy" by the driver causes the gate to open. This, of course, is not the case for other operators.

The current Regional Chief has made it clear to us that he has never seen a single receipt proving that this operator has paid royalties while he was in charge. No taxes are paid to the municipality. "We do not know what to do," he complained during our interview.

When we raised the question of the non-payment of fees with Mr. RAVELOSON, he categorically denied this and claimed that the rumours about the absence of payments were slanderous accusations. Without providing any evidence to support this view, he also asserted that this smear campaign against him had political overtones. He went on claiming that he helped farmers by proposing solutions to their problems and especially by donating seeds. For him, his generosity compensates for his uncompromising attitude toward the other collectors.

According to a deputy mayor of the town of Malaimbandy, the MP operator’s royalties could have been used to build a school with two rooms, which could accommodate one hundred pupils every year. He estimates that the operator has managed to collect up to 3,000 tons of paddy in his area. From a telephone conversation with the mayor of Malaimbady, he justified his decision of living outside the region of Menabe by a fear for his safety in connection with these missing royalties. His life was threatened and there were attempts to dismiss him and replace him by the President of the Special Delegation (PDS). For this moment, the attempt to dismiss the mayor has been unsuccessful. Therefore,google  for now his First Deputy directs the daily affairs in the commune.

 

What is the State doing?

The farmers and operators are distraught. They are afraid and nothing seemed to be able to control the considerable power acquired by the MP operator in the Region. Two complaints against the former MP with respect to the behaviour described in this article, have, however, been filed with BIANCO. Following these complaints, the BIANCO investigators carried out an enquiry in September 2017, which resulted in minutes of proceedings transmitted to the Court of Morondava (under reference number 16/17 of 21/09/2017 and PV N ° 17/17 of 21/09/2017).

The Menabe Regional Trade Director also submitted a report to his Ministry after having been made aware of the situation. During the time he was Trade Minister, Mr. Armand TAZAFY went to Morondava on June 9 , 2017, to inaugurate the new office of the Chamber of Commerce. Answering journalists' questions about the case. The Minister used this platform to strongly and publicly condemned the irregular practices of which Mr. RAVELOSON was accused (see box). An operator in the region claimed to have been greatly disappointed when he allegedly saw the Minister that very same evening in the car of Mr. Ludovic RAVELOSON.

Representatives of the National Competition Council also went to Morondava following complaints from operators and after receiving the report prepared by the Menabe Regional Trade Centre. The Council then organized a meeting to explain to operators the laws governing competition in Madagascar. However despite this intervention, no concrete measures were taken to counter the monopoly in the collection of products by the MP operator. Some rumours throughout the operators are even implying that the case has been buried.

 

The former MP RAVELOSON and his son are now both in pre-trial detention.

They were arrested by security at Mahabo on the morning of April 23, 2019. His house was searched and firearms were seized, including rifles and ammunition. Money was also seized during their arrest. The following day, April 24, 2019, the two men appeared before the tribunal. They are currently in pre-trial detention awaiting trial. A high-ranking army officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, asserts that the former Deputy offered him a large sum of money to prevent his arrest, which he refused. The judgment of this former MP and his son is expected soon.

 

Sidebar: Many laws have potentially been broken.

There is a solid legal basis to denounce the serious occurrences in Menabe region. Madagascar has laws governing the collection of products, in particular decree 65-046 of February 10 1965, concerning the collection of local products and decree N° 5912-MPCA/93 on obligations relating to the collection of local products throughout the national territory. There are also laws regulating free competition, notably decree n° 2005-020 of October 17, 2005, on competition. Finally, the resources of decentralized local authorities and in particular the conditions for collection of local taxes are defined by the decree 2014-020 of September 27, 2014, relating to the resources of decentralized territorial authorities, election procedures, as well as the organization functioning and allocations of their committees.

Photo credit: Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke (Pixabay)

 

Thanks to Tahina Andriamamonjy for her support in publishing this article.

This English translation has been possible thanks to the PerMondo project: Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations. A project managed by Mondo Agit. Translator: Paul Fisher. Proofreader: Jacobsen Miller.