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The Killid Group
Farmers Warn No Melons Next YearWritten by Sayed ZaherAdeli from Mazar-e-Sharif
Sunday, 31 July 2011 16:05
There are allegations of corruption around a new tax levied at Mazar's checkpoints.
Fruit and vegetable farmers in Balkh province are complaining about a new tariff levied by Mazar-e-Sharif municipality. Trucks with cargo have to pay a "contracting fee" at the 11 checkpoints into the provincial capital.
Farmers say the new tax imposed from December 2010 has cut into their income.
Ghulam Mohammad, a farmer who brings vegetables daily to the market in Mazar, says that it has increased his transportation costs and affected his income from farming.
Producers bear the cost of transporting agricultural produce from the fields to markets in addition to paying a host of municipality tariffs including for cargo location, and the cost of unloading goods especially perishables. Even police demand bribes from farmers at checkpoints, called checking money", a report published in Killid, June 18, had revealed.
"Most of the time," says Mohammad, "what farmers receive for selling produce in the market goes to pay for the cost of reaching it there, leaving them with very little for their efforts (farming)."
Equally owners of small trucks are unhappy since the introduction of the new tax. With the cost of transportation having gone up, producers and traders have taken to sharing costs by hiring large trucks to ferry goods.
"They ask me for 600 to 800Afs (13 to 16 US dollars) at checkpoints, which is as much as much larger trucks are made to pay," says driver Fazel Ahmad whose income has sharply reduced this year. "Now I carry agricultural products from my district to Mazar once a week, whereas previously I made two trips a day to the Mazar market!"
Abdul Moqim, commissioner in the Mazar-e-Sharif Contracting Department, denies charges of mismanagement and corruption at the checkpoints. "There is a receipt for every payment at the checkpoint, which does not allow contractors (collection agents) to receive money illegally. They have to tax the drivers according to the law," he said, adding, "Drivers can file appeals if they have been made to pay extra."
Mazar trader Abdul Moquim has paid the municipality 325 million Afs (roughly 6.8 million US dollars) for the contract for tax collection for a year.
Moquim blames "rivals" for the corruption charges against his agents at the checkpoints. "Because I won the contracting concession in a free contest, it may be possible that those who are my rivals are spreading the gossip," he told Killid in an interview.
Municipality officials are backing him. "There is a delegation that has been assigned by the Mazar municipality to visit and control checkpoints every week but they have not received any complaints from drivers about illegal charges or demands," says Abdul Qaium, a clerk in the Contracting Department.
According to him, the municipality has pegged the tax to the value of the cargo, and not the size of the truck. For instance, a tonne of watermelons will be charged 300 Afs (7 dollars).
Frustrated Balkh fruit farmers have warned that unless things change at the checkpoints they will not grow highly perishable water and honey melons next year.