Maize scandal: Top State officials exonerate themselves

Business

The Standard Team

A day after a report detailing the shocking extent of the maize saga leaked to the Press, those named in the scandal fought back viciously amid growing calls for them to step aside.

The key Government officials who have been recommended for further investigations, and whose offices the auditors believe the spotlight needs to be turned on rushed to defend themselves, making it clear none of them was willing to step aside to allow for investigations.

Others did not take their calls and ignored inquiries on the scandal, and if they would step aside.

The audit report on the maize scandal shines the spotlight on several top Government officials only days after Prime Minister Raila Odinga mounted pressure on Education Minister and Permanent Secretary Sam Ongeri and Karega Mutahi to step aside over a Sh100 million scandal involving Free Primary Education cash.

Agriculture Minister William Ruto said he would only take responsibility for the 2008 maize scam if others take theirs. He, however, emphasised the buck could not possibly stop with him, saying the Strategic Grain Reserve was not under his ministry.

"If you are looking for somebody to take political responsibility, then you will have to look somewhere else … it is not the Minister for Agriculture," Ruto said.

He evaded answering whether he would resign as the minister under whom the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCBP) falls, arguing he had answered that question.

"If I ‘m given the report I will read it and then take appropriate action," Ruto said, but declined to say, which action this would be.

Not seen report

Minister for Agriculture William Ruto : "If you are looking for somebody to take political responsibility then you will have to look somewhere else."

Responding to our queries on the report Special Programmes Minister Naomi Shaban, under whose docket the SGR falls, too, said she has not seen the report.

She, however, added: "PwC dealt with PSs and officers. When they need us we will be very co-operative."

The Prime Minister’s Administrative Secretary Caroli Omondi maintained the ad hoc committee of the Cabinet on Food Security did not get involved in procurement.

Mr Omondi noted that the mandate of the committee was to make the necessary budgetary and other logistical provisions for the importation of five millions bags of maize from July 2008.

The maize, he said, was to be imported by NCPB and that in view of the urgency the procurement it would be done through a restricted tender.

He also took issue with PwC over accusation that he did not provide them with copies of Cabinet documents to allow further investigations.

Omondi, in a terse statement addressed to PwC director Martin Whitehead, noted that he could not make available copies of the Cabinet documents due to the Official Secrets Act.

"I am proceeding on the understanding you require some documentary proof to corroborate certain actions or decisions that were implemented with the authority of the Cabinet. In other words, you wish to verify the Cabinet did indeed sanction certain actions, especially those attributed to me," said Omondi.

The Prime Minister’s office promised to make a statement on the contents of the report "very soon" after studying it.

The PM’s Spokesman Dennis Onyango said the final report of the Independent Forensic Audit in the Implementation of the Subsidised Maize Scheme at the NCPB was delivered to the Prime Minister on Monday.

"Only yesterday did he begin going through the 366-page document. He assures the public he will make his position known," said the statement.

But even as the buck was being passed around with dizzying speed, various MPs called for the prosecution of all top Government officials implicated in the report. Transparency International, Kenya, said there were at least 20 Cabinet ministers who have been implicated in various scams.

PwC, in its report released on Tuesday recommended the investigations into the maize scam be narrowed down to Agriculture PS Romano Kiome and NCPB Managing Director Gideon Misoi. Also featured in the report is Special Programmes PS Ali Mohamed.

The audit firm also asked KACC to probe the PS in the PM’s office Mohamed Isahakia and Omondi. The report, however, does not recommend that the PM or Ruto be investigated.

Most culpable

PwC, which was appointed last year by the PM’s office to investigate the scam, however singled out Prof Gideon Misoi as "the single most culpable individual," in the maze scam.

Misoi, the NCPBD managing director, said he had not seen the report but would respond after reading it.

"I have not seen the report, I do not want to respond to newspaper reports. Let’s wait for the PwC report," said Misoi on telephone.

Asked whether he was clean in the maize deal, Misoi’s response was: " There is nothing much I can tell you. Let me wait for the report first."

But he noted he has furnished the investigative agencies with the required information. If they require more, he said he is ready to give it.

Isahakia neither took his calls nor answered our queries by sms.

The report faults "over-sale" of Strategic Grain Reserve in excess of 277,000 bags of maize and the allocation of subsidised maize to well-connected brokers.

The brokers sold the maize to millers at exorbitant profits, causing the prices of maize floor to shoot up.

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