Maize scandals a sign of immaturity

By Wahome Thuku

Whether the maize scandal brings down a big shot or not, it is not the first.

Indeed, the dirty history of maize thievery is only repeating itself.

Maize has long been central to our lives. When Grace Onyango, the first woman elected an MP, rose to make her maiden speech in Parliament in January 1970, her first words were on the quality of maize meal being sold in the country. It has also been the subject of scandals and cover-ups.

On February 23, 1965, then Housing and Social Services Minister Paul Ngei was suspended from Cabinet after being implicated in a maize scandal. It involved Sh33,000 (quite a substantial amount at the time) not paid by Ngei’s milling company for purchase of grain from the Maize Marketing Board. The scandal occurred the previous year, when Ngei doubled as chairman of the board.

The subject generated heated debate inside and outside the Senate, the upper chamber of Parliament at the time. President Kenyatta set up a commission of inquiry to investigate. A report was presented to him on May 25, 1966 and, needless to say, that was the first and last it was heard of. Ngei worked his way back to Cabinet.

Some 17 years later, in March 1982, another powerful minister was caught in yet another multi-million shilling scam involving importation of maize. The deal, which touched the Kenya National Cereals Board and a Zimbabwean company, was claimed to have been negotiated during that country’s Independence Day celebrations. A senior official of the board was arrested and charged, and the matter ended.Sometime between the two incidents, another Cabinet minister (Jeremiah Nyagah) was involved in a nasty controversy over policy regarding a brand of maize meal released into the market. The crisis was the subject of debate for longer than the current one, but no one came tumbling down.

If, 45 years after Independence, leaders are still involved in the same food scandals peddled by their predecessors in 1965, it is proof that, as a country, we are yet to mature.

—The writer is a staff reporter with The Standard Group.

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