MPs quiz firm's director on his role in supply of fake fertiliser

Josiah Kariuki (centre) flanked by his lawyers Danstan Omari (left) and Cliff Ombeta before the National Assembly’s Committee on Agriculture. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Tensions flared on Tuesday when the director of a firm reportedly involved in the fake fertiliser scandal appeared before a parliamentary team to give his evidence

While National Assembly Committee on Agriculture chairman John Mutunga accused SBL Innovate Manufacturers Limited Director Josiah Kariuki of lying regarding his involvement in the scandal, Kariuki criticized the committee for antagonizing him despite accepting their invitation to clear the air on the matter.

Mr Kariuki, who was accompanied by seven advocates, including Danstan Omari and Cliff Ombeta, faced a barrage of questions from the committee members, who pressed him to clarify his role in the fertiliser scandal that has rocked the country.

“I want to inform Kariuki that we did not come here to joke. The information he is sharing with the committee is inconsistent, which clearly shows he is lying to Kenyans about his role in the fake fertilizer scandal where he has been mentioned adversely. We are not going to allow this,” said Mr Mutunga.

The committee took Kariuki to task for claiming he had started selling fertiliser on the strength of a verbal agreement with the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), only to sign a written contract eight months later.

The lawmakers also wanted to know how Kariuki managed to ink a deal with NCPB without an agreement, and how he started selling the fertiliser despite not having receiving approval from the standards body.

The director said that he approached the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and applied for a standard mark of quality around November 2022, adding that he was the first distributor to make such a request while other companies worked with NCPB without a written agreement.

“There were other companies working as distributors with the National Cereals and Produce Board without a formal contract. My company was the first one to seek an official contract to have a mark of quality. I should not be vilified over this since other companies have been working without one,” said Kariuki.

He said that after his company was stopped from operating by Kebs last month, he asked his employees to go on leave. He also stated that he had been admitted to hospital for one week and sought time to submit required documents, a request the committee dismissed.

The businessman said that he ventured into the fertiliser-making business and approached African Diatomite where he did trials of the fertilizer on his farm in Rumuruti, Laikipia County. He claimed the product did well, after which he started distribution.

Kariuki denied any wrongdoing, saying his job was to do advertising and look for markets for the fertilizer while Africa Diatomite did the packaging. He said he used the NCPB stores to distribute the fertiliser across the country.

“SBL Innovate Manufacturers does not have any role in the distribution of fake fertilisers. The government should take action against those selling soil to farmers since they are well known, I am concerned that this committee is hostile to me yet I have not been found guilty by anyone,” he said.

Nominated MP Sabina Chege said Kariuki needed to understand what he was selling, and that Kebs was supposed to certify what he was doing. She said it was wrong for him to refer the committee to Kebs for answers to his activities.

Sabina sought to know why the company had post office addresses in Nyayo Stadium, Gilgil and Changamwe while the phone number were the same, whether they had different products in Mombasa, and how farmers would be compensated by the company.

But addressing journalists outside Parliament, his lawyers accused MPs of being biased against Kariuki.

“How can the committee ask our client questions and not give him a chance to respond accordingly? They are sentencing him without evidence. We are waiting for the report they are going to produce,” said Ombeta.