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Raila’s son linked to maize scam

By | May 1st 2009
By | May 1st 2009

By Peter Opiyo and Alex Ndegwa

Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s name has been sucked into the controversy over a Sh3.6 billion maize scam and a parliamentary committee has recommended that his son, associates and personal assistant be investigated over the deal.

The PM was not absolved of blame either, with the report alleging that the Cabinet’s Sub-Committee on Food Security that Raila chairs altered the tender specification to allow the highest bidder instead of the lowest. The Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Lands and Natural Resources further recommends the sacking of Agriculture and Special Programmes Permanent Secretaries as well as the managing director of National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) Gideon Misoi to pave way for investigations.

The committee further recommends that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) investigate maize import procurement process and establish the role played by the firms awarded contracts, particularly the link to importers and to establish whether they were registered in Kenya.

The Cabinet Sub-committee on Food Security, which the PM chaired, was singled out for investigation as it allegedly influenced the companies that tendered for imports. Others on the committee are the ministers for Finance, Special Programmes, Water and Agriculture.

The report, tabled by committee chairman and Naivasha MP John Mututho, says the sacking of the two PSs and NCPB chief should be speeded up to "allow investigation and subsequent criminal and/or civil proceedings against them as pertains the maize scam".

The 77-page report, Report on Food Security Status and the Maize Shortage in the Country, and dated April 2009, further recommends that all Government agencies involved in the importation of maize — NCPB, Kenya Bureau of Standards, Public Health Inspectorate and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service — be streamlined and appropriate measures put in place on the way they handle safety and quality of maize.

Tabled after Parliament approved Sh8.5 billion to import maize as part of the Sh26 billion budget on Wednesday, the report calls on the Ministry of Special Programmes to boost the capacity of the Strategic Grain Reserve Stores (SGRS) from three million to ten million bags.

Food insecurity

And to further cushion the country from food insecurity, the committee recommends that the SGRS diversifies the grains it stores and to make cash equivalent of 5 million 90kg bags at any one time.

On the release orders given by various ministries, individuals and agencies to NCPB, the report recommends further investigation to ascertain the release orders of 3.4 million bags between December, 2007 and October, 2008.

According to evidence adduced, the report says the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Food Security should be investigated on its role in maize importation.

"It is this same committee that made resolutions which led to very exaggerated import prices and the taxpayer must have lost Sh3.6 billion," the report says.

It further calls for enhanced management of the emergency grain reserve and proposes the inclusion of PSs in the ministries of Livestock, Public Health and Co-operative Development. Currently, the membership of SGR includes PSs in the ministries of Agriculture, Special Programmes and Finance.

Expressing distrust with the Government over the distribution of relief food, the committee recommends that the Kenya Red Cross manage the process. This is what donors have been insisting.

"The Government should stop distribution of famine relief, through the Provincial Administration, with immediate effect and distribute the same through the Kenya Red Cross or WFP; and just ensure a supervisory role," says the report.

The committee also calls for the destruction of 6,254 metric tonnes of condemned maize lying at the port of Mombasa.

It appeals to KACC to investigate claims of fraud and loss of public funds in the importation of GMO maize as directed by Agriculture PS Romano Kiome.

"The maize being held at the Grain Bulk Handlers Ltd should be destroyed by Kenya Bureau of Standards in public and in the presence of the parliamentary committee and all relevant Government agencies," the report says.

Hoarding detected

The committee summoned key Government officials, including Agriculture Minister William Ruto, and recommends that Mombasa Maize Millers be investigated for "hoarding in excess of 500,000 bags at the height of famine", allegedly causing a maize shortage.

The ten-member committee received evidence from Mr Ruto, Dr Naomi Shaban (Special Programmes minister) and the managing director of NCPB.

Others grilled were managing directors of Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kenya Plant Health and Inspectorate Service (Kephis), Kenya Ports Authority and the chief executive officer of Grain Bulk Handlers Ltd as well as individuals.

The committee heard that maize flour prices increased suddenly because millers transferred the cost of maize to consumers. They bought a bag of maize at Sh2,300 instead of Sh1,700.

It is estimated that the country would have about eight million bags of maize held by farmers, traders, millers and NCPB, the report says.

The report also recommends investigation of maize millers to find out if they get high profits (104 per cent in maize and 214 per cent in wheat) at the expense of consumer prices.

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