152 suspects to be probed over NCPB maize scandal

Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri (centre), Chief Administrative Secretary Andrew Tuimor (left) and PS Hamadi Boga when they addressed the Press in Nairobi, yesterday. [Pius Cheruiyot, Standard]

The Government is finally training its guns on maize cartels who profiteered from the scandal at National Cereals and Produce Board.

The cry and protests by maize farmers have been loud, attracting the attention of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who only last week publicly gave a tongue lashing to his Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri to either act, and do so swiftly, or face the consequences over the scandal.

Mr Kiunjuri yesterday asked Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to immediately commence the prosecution of those who have been receiving undue payments that should have gone to farmers.

He revealed that 152 people, mainly NCPB officials and unscrupulous traders, were under investigation and faced possible prosecution.

Infiltrated the process

Those targeted are accused of having connived with the NCPB officials, infiltrated the process, as there was hardly vetting conducted, and taken advantage of the poor recording systems to swindle in excess of Sh2 billion using fictitious figures of bags that they pretended to have delivered in silos.

Yesterday, Kiunjuri revealed the cartel claimed to have remitted two million 50kg bags of the overall 6.52 million bags delivered to NCPB.

“It is interesting to note that they were paid between 63 per cent to 90 per cent of their delivered quantities by December 2017, amounting to Sh2.053 billion, and are claiming an additional Sh1.47 billion,” he said.

Kiunjuri pleaded his innocence, saying the bulk of the contentious payments were made while he had not assumed the docket. “If I will be implicated in the scandal, then I will resign,” said Kiunjuri.

The Cabinet Secretary said those who orchestrated the scandal must be prosecuted to bring  closure an issue that has caused farmers pain and anguish.

During a Press briefing at his Kilimo House yesterday, Kiunjuri blamed the investigative arms, EACC and DCI, over the “slow manner” in which they had handled the mega scandal.

He  complained that months after the matter came to the limelight, those responsible had not been prosecuted.

President’s directive

“The President is understandably disappointed. I am frustrated and disappointed too. This matter needs to be put to rest. I have forwarded all the information that I forwarded in March to the two investigative institutions for them to take the necessary action,” he said.?

Kiunjuri added: “I urge the EACC and the DCI, I wish I could direct you, to expedite this process in compliance with the President’s directive for the truth to come out and to clear the cloud surrounding this matter.”

The CS, who has suffered the humiliation of the President’s dress-down over the scandal, said those who held office before him should take responsibility. Willy Bett was the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary before Kiunjuri.

Kiunjuri, indicating he did not have the full knowledge of the scandal that has seen much of the Sh9,498,879,271 so far paid for the maize delivered questioned, said Sh7 billion was paid out before he assumed office.

During his tenure, he said, only Sh2.4 billion has been paid. However, he also revealed that the amount was also under probe to ascertain how it was released since by then there was a fleece on payments until the underlying issues were resolved.

Kiunjuri said NCPB started receiving maize from farmers on October 16, last year, before his appointment as CS last January 28. Payments, he added, were made from October last year, to February this year, days after he came to the ministry.

“I was made to believe that due process in terms of vetting farmers before payment was being followed,” said Kiunjuri.

Kiunjuri was castigated by Uhuru during Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega for failing to spearhead the arrest and prosecution of those who profited from the scandal.

The visibly angry Head of State told the CS to ensure the culprits faced justice, or carry the cross, a statement interpreted by many as telling Kiunjuri to take the political responsibility.

“Time for jokes is over. Look for those stealing public resources, bring them we take them to jail or you will find yourself in trouble over these issues,” the President said.

Internal audit

An internal audit conducted at NCPB, which was later tabled in Parliament, indicated that silo managers ignored basic regulations on maize purchase.

The report showed how traders, assisted by NCPB officers at the depots, infiltrated the process, and had documents altered in their favour (traders).

The audit also revealed weaknesses in the forms used by the board once maize was delivered, saying they lacked any security features and could easily be replicated, as may have happened, leading to multiple payments.

The audit was conducted in Eldoret, Moi’s Bridge, Nakuru, Kisumu and Bungoma silos.

Operations Manager

In Kisumu, the silo manager was taken to task to explain the unapproved deliveries of 75,131 bags against a circular issued on October 30, last year from the Operations Manager, which prohibited them from purchasing the cereals without a clearance form being signed by authorised officers. 

The silo managers are also faulted for failing to adhere to a November 14, 2016 guideline stating: “At no time shall a depot manager receive maize from farmers who do not appear in the farmer’s register”.

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