Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Consulting firm counter claims misusing UNDP funds Says lack of funding delayed renovation of soil lab

Contracted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources to consult and oversee the renovation work of National Soil Testing Center (NSTC), the California-based Digata Industries Inc. counter claimed any wrongdoings against the alleged misuse of a one-million-dollar project.

Back in April, The Reporter ran a news story, citing sources at the Ministry who claimed that a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) funded NSTC renovation has been abused. Claimants said that Digata Industries was paid some 650,000 dollars in advance while major renovations of the soil lab remained incomplete.

Refuting the claims, Girma Selassie, President of Digata Industrie,s told The Reporter that the company has never been misusing funds. He rather said that Digata has funded the first phase of the project out of its own account which is in excess of one million dollar UNDP availed. Out of the pledged amount, Girma said that Digata obtained some 650,000 dollars. However, some 153,000 dollars was exclusively funded by Digata to renovate the soil lab. Out of the one-million-dollar fund, more than 560,000 have been spent to purchase lab furniture and equipment, Girma said.

According to the bill of lading documents, Digata provided to The Reporter, there are four containers stored at the Port of Djibouti waiting to be shipped to the soil testing lab. According to Girma the overall cost of the project, which divided in two phases, is estimated to be at 2.5 million dollars. 

Sources earlier told The Reporter that the Ministry received the fund a while back to repair an old building in which the soil testing laboratory and equipment were stationed.  The claimants alleged that the Ministry hired Digata Industries, 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; a claim Digata boldly refuted. 

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Frenesh Mekuria, State Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources counterclaimed denying any wrongdoings. 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 said. 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 said. The Frenesh 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.

Girma on his part admitted that the renovation has been delayed due to lack of funds. However, he said that the first phase will be completed in the coming eight months, if things are moving according to the schedule. 

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