Anger greeted revelations that unscrupulous maize traders were paid Sh1.9 billion on imported maize.
The revelations came even as the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) delayed payment for thousands of genuine farmers.
Leaders and farmers in the region called for investigations into what they termed the ‘country’s newest scandal’, coming hot on the heels of the Sh9 billion National Youth service (NYS) scam.
On Monday, Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe suspended key NCPB officials, with Managing Director Newton Terer, resigning as investigation into the matter got underway.
“We need the Government to unmask the faces behind the scandal,” said Moiben MP Silas Tiren, who, however, added that Mr Terer’s resignation may not be the ultimate answer to the problems bedeviling the agriculture sector.
“We are only trying to cover up the real issues. We want Kenyans to know the truth. The MD needs to tell us what really happened. If he had stepped aside for investigations to proceed, it would not have raised questions. We do not know why he resigned before investigations are done. Incidents where public servants siphon taxpayers’ money and when caught resign or step aside should come to an end,” he said.
He wondered why the MD had resigned ‘before providing answers’, pointing out that the development may be part of a wider cover-up to shield the real culprits in the maize and fertiliser saga.
Soy lawmaker Caleb Kositany also supported the suspension of key NCPB officials, saying it was long overdue.
“The purge was long overdue. It comes following complaints from farmers. Anyone with information that will assist in investigations should come out,” he said.
Yesterday, Terer, whose tenure was punctuated by allegations of corruption and mismanagement at the cereals board, refused to comment on his departure, instead referring all questions to the new acting office.
The MD was also tight-lipped on whether he had resigned voluntarily or had been forced out of office in the wake of a storm raised over delayed payments of maize supplies and infiltration of cartels in the sector.
“I would not like to comment on my departure for now. We already have people in office and all information is with them,” said Terer, whose position has been taken by Albin Sang in an acting capacity.
Uasin Gishu Agriculture Executive Samuel Yego said the issues at the board were bigger than what the public knows, and investigations should be neutral, without blanket condemnation of NCPB staff.
“There should be an amicable working relationship between Kilimo House and NCPB if issues of prompt payment, effective distribution of subsidies along with eradicating cartels are to be achieved,” said Mr Yego.
Trans-Nzoia Woman Representative Janet Nangabo called for an overhaul of NCPB.
“Those involved in the scam should be prosecuted and the Government should ensure that NCPB operations are streamlined to ensure farmers are paid promptly after maize delivery,” said Ms Nangabo.
The lead up to the departure of the top NCPB bosses was dramatic, as farmers complained that shadowy figures were behind the woes affecting the sector.
Further compounding their problems was a move by the Agriculture ministry last month compelling them to sign a commitment that they would not demand payment on maize deliveries until 2018/2019 financial year.
“As a committee, we have been trying to push for payment for farmers... Money was released, but instead of genuine farmers being paid, it was given to unscrupulous traders,” said parliamentary Agriculture Committee Chairman Adan Haji Ali.
“Lesiyampe has done the right thing because there has been high corruption in accessing subsidised fertilisers by genuine farmers,” added Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri.
While suspending the officials, Dr Lesiyampe cited various sins of omission and commission allegedly committed under the watch of the officials.
“Cases have been reported of delays in delivery to farmers, inefficient distribution and penetration by cartels in collusion with some staff,” the PS said.