Posted on July, 18, 2019 at 10:59 am
By LUKE AWICH AND AGATHA NGOTHO - The Star
The Agriculture ministry irregularly withdrew Sh1.8 billion from Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund account without approval of the board putting embattled Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri on the spot.
In a strongly worded letter to Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga, Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) Chairman Noah Wekesa said the payment was outright illegal.
“Your disclosure of the payment of Sh1.8 billion from the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund Central Bank Account to the Commodity House without the board’s approval was against the law,” Wekesa said in a letter dated July 9.
The payment was allegedly for a pending bill for maize imported in 2017.
Kiunjiri yesterday told Parliament that the Commodity House is owed Sh3.6 billion.
However, MPs mainly from the maize growing regions claimed the cash was an advance payment for a consignment yet to be imported.
A search at the Register of Companies shows that the firm has four directors.
They are Richard Ethan Ndubai, Stehen Cheruiyot Kositany, Daniel Mburu Wainaina and Reginald Willingston Karanja.
Following this revelation, MPs yesterday demanded the immediate resignation of Kiunjuri and the PS in charge of crop development Hamadi Boga to allow for a thorough probe into the payment.
The MPs want Kiunjuri to leave office and threatened to institute a censure motion to force him out when the House resumes next week.
Kiunjuri who remained adamant over maize importation, contradicting SFR — the body mandated to advise the government on food reserve — dismissed the irregular payment claims saying the Sh 1.8 billion payment was for pending bills owed to an importer.
According to Wekesa, the SFR priority was to clear pending bills owed to farmers and pay part of the debt his agency owes the National Cereals and Produce Board.
Questions are now being asked as to why the ministry is transacting on behalf of the parastatal without consultation at a time when many pending bills have been exposed as fictitious.
“In this regard, any more settlement of additional debts will no doubt deplete the reserve and destabalise the work plan of the Strategic Food Reserve Oversight Board,” Wekesa protested in the letter.
MPs said that DCI boss George Kinoti and the EACC should investigate Kiunjuri over the possible loss of public cash. They include Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany), Silas Tiren (Moiben), Caleb Amisi (Saboti), Robert Pukose (Endebes) and Marwa Maisuri (Kuria East) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills).
Kiunjuri has previously been given a public tongue-lashing by President Uhuru Kenyatta for paying cartels at the expense of farmers at the NCPB.
But according to the legislators, the Sh1.8 billion was an advanced payment to a firm associated with maize importation cartels in the country. They did not identify the cartels.
“The Director of Criminal Investigations and the Ethics and anti-Corruption Commission should immediately launch investigations into why the payments that in our opinion were designed to defraud the taxpayers and hurt farmers were made without the knowledge of the SFR Board,” Kutuny said.
Keter said he has already started drafting an impeachment motion against the CS to force him out of office if he refuses to resign.
“It is long overdue, please resign. Save me the energy because you will go,” Keter said.
The motion, he said, will be tabled next week when the House resumes sittings from a short recess.
The Nandi Hills MP claimed the ministry is planning to pay another five more firms next week in readiness for importation that is being pushed by the CS.
Both the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund and the Agriculture Committee had told the minister to shelve plans of allowing the importation of the grain. They argued there is no crisis to justify flooding the country with Mexico maize.
But Kiunjiri denied claims by committee vice chairman Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo) that a ship with the 40,000 bags docked at the Port of Mombasa on May 28, waiting for the government to open up the window for importation.
He said the country will not import any maize from Mexico as this will hurt farmers whose harvest will start entering the market in the next two months.
In yet another twist, Kiunjuri appeared to backtrack on the quantity of the maize he is seeking to import, abandoning the earlier figure of 12.5 million bags and instead telling MPs that he now seeks to import only six million bags.
In May, the Cabinet Secretary announced that millers and traders would be allowed to import 12.5 million bags — 10 million bags of white maize and 2.5 million bags of yellow.
But yesterday, while appearing before MPs, Kiunjuri said the country will now need to import six million bags from the Comesa (Common Market for Eastern and Central Africa) region and Ethiopia to cushion consumers against high prices of unga. A two-kilogramme packet costs Sh120 to Sh124.
He explained that the shift from 12.5 million bags to six million is because two months have already elapsed since May and millers and traders have been buying maize from Tanzania and Uganda.
“There is maize coming from Tanzania and Uganda but the inflows are not enough, hence, the need to source for maize in Comesa and Ethiopia, which will be cheaper than getting maize from Mexico,” Kiunjuri said.
Other exporters, the Export Trading Group is owed Sh480 million, Dolphins grain importers is owed Sh61 million, while the Cereals Millers Association is owed Sh2.6 billion.
“The Sh1.8 billion paid to Commodity House was drawn from the Sh4 billion with SFR that was meant to pay these pending bills. This was according to a circular and directive from President Uhuru Kenyatta to clear what is owed to the importers,” The explained.
He said they will pay Sh300 million to ETG while Dolphins will be paid the full amount; millers will be paid later.
“But for the first time, we have money ready to pay farmers for the upcoming harvest that will start in mid-September. We have Sh3 billion with the SFR Trust Fund for farmers and this cannot be used for any other purpose,” he said.
Source: The Star