Mystery of Sh1.8 billion 'paid to maize traders'

Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri in a past press conference when he addressed the maize crisis issue. [File, Standard]
Controversy surrounds the expenditure of Sh1.8 billion withdrawn from the accounts of the Strategic Food Reserve Trust fund at Central Bank.

One one side, the Strategic Food Reserve Trust claims the money was withdrawn irregularly and paid to a company instead of farmers. But Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri denied these claims, saying the money was used to settle pending bills.

On a day Mr Kiunjuri backtracked on a decision to import 12 million bags of maize, members of parliament from maize growing regions claimed that his ministry withdrew the money without the approval of the Strategic Food Reserve Board and demanded an investigation.

In a letter to Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga, Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund Chairman Noah Wekesa said the agency was kept in the dark as money set aside to pay farmers was instead wired to maize merchants.

“Payment of pending bills to traders and merchants featured in strategic Food Reserve Oversight Board meeting held on 20th June 2019 and did not receive the approval of the board. However, the board’s priority was to clear the maize farmers’ pending bills, pay part of the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) debt …and budget for the purchase of maize harvest in 2019/2020,” he added.

In a statement, the MPs said: “We are demanding that the CS in charge of agriculture and the principal secretary in charge of crop development Professor Hamadi Boga immediately resign to pave way for investigations into the illegal payments."

"The Director of Criminal Investigation Department (DCI) and the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) immediately launch an investigation into why the payments that were in our opinion designed to hurt farmers were made without the knowledge of the Strategic Food Reserve (SFRT) board,” they added in a statement read by Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny.

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Others at the press conference were Silas Tiren (Moiben), Caleb Amisi (Saboti), David Pukose (Endebess), Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills) and Marwa Maisori (Kuria East).

The allegations added to a wave that has swirled around Kiunjuri since he announced plans to import maize, just two months before the peak harvest season. The MPs claimed that allowing the importation of maize would pave the way for merchants to flood the market with the grain and hurt hard-working farmers.

The CS has also been at loggerheads with the SFRT after the agency claimed he ignored its advise that the country does not need to import maize.

But at the committee, Kiunjuri sought to calm fears that imported maize would flood the market in the coming days.

He denied reports that Sh1.8 billion was irregularly withdrawn, arguing that it went towards settling pending bills following a government directive that such debts be cleared.

Kiunjuri said the money was not part of that set aside for maize purchases from farmers.

“The instructions were clear that all the pending bills be paid. But the money was not for paying farmers. The money for farmers is still intact,” he assured.

He said the county would source only six million bags from Comesa countries to deal with the current shortfall as farmer prepare for harvest.

“The issue of importation was discussed in April after considering the prevailing weather patterns. It is normal to import between 8m and 12m bags of maize every year. Even now, there are imports going on. The difference here is that when we talk about importation, it is from outside the Comesa region and this is mainly pegged on Mexico," he said.

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trategic Food Reserve TrustCentral BankMaize farmersMwangi KiunjuriNoah Wekesa