Firm claims duress in fake fertiliser probe

Devesh Patel (centre) before the National Assembly Agriculture Committee. [Elvis Ogina, Standard] 

The mystery surrounding the origin of the fake fertiliser deepened on Thursday even as the company at the centre of the probe accused senior government officials of intimidation.

KEL Chemicals Limited, which appeared before the National Assembly Agriculture Committee, claimed another firm - Mems Distributors Limited- was behind the mess.

Devesh Patel, the firm’s MD and Operations Manager, said it had not entered into any contract with the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) for the supply of the fertiliser in question.

He revealed that the tender for the supply of 550,000 bags of NPK 10:26:10 had been awarded to Mems Distributors Ltd but since it lacked capacity, it subcontracted KEL Chemicals to manufacture the fertiliser.

“On or around the first week of January 2024, a man named Collins Ngetich who is the CEO Mems Distributors Limited approached the company with a local purchase order and a tender contract for the distribution of fertiliser NPK 10:26:10 to NCPB under the subsidy program. Following the receipt of a request to manufacture the fertiliser, KEL Chemicals proceeded to do a first and second test batch and sent them to the Kenya Bureau of Standards for approval,” said Patel.

After securing approval from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), it embarked on the manufacture of the first batch of 50,000 bags of 50 kilogrammes each at Sh190,000,000.

The committee also heard that on March 12, 2024, Ngetich returned with an LPO for the supply of 500,000 bags of NPK fertilizer of 50 kilogrammes each at Sh1.89 billion. The company then commenced the manufacture of the same before it was ordered to cease production of the fertiliser by KEBS on March 22.

By then, Patel submitted that they had only manufactured 69,670 bags.

“Therefore, in order to satisfy the contract between Mems and NCPB, the former was under an obligation to source for 480,030 bags…the difference between the deliverable quantities points to the discrepancy surrounding the spiking and adulteration of the company’s products before delivery to the farmers,” said Patel.

The John Mutunga-led committee, however, pressed Patel to explain how empty bags found their way to KEL Chemicals premises.  

Patel, however, revealed that the bags used for the packaging of the fertiliser were supplied by Supreme Packaging LLP, adding it was possible Mems printed extra bags.

He further told the committee of how he was lured to two meetings in one day by senior government officials whose intention, he said, was to coerce him to take the blame for the fake fertiliser in the country.

On April 4, 2024, Patel confessed to having received a call from Mrs Loraine Karani who directed that he appear at the NCPB headquarters at 3.30 pm.

On arrival, he met Ngetich and NCPB Managing Director Joseph Kimote. There, he told the committee he was threatened to refund the money, which had already been paid by Mems.

Patel and Ngetich were then informed to go to the Office of the President for a meeting at around 5pm. On arrival at Harambee House, they were asked to wait outside as Kimote held a meeting with individuals that Patel later identified as Kipronoh Ronoh, the Agriculture Principal Secretary, Esther Ngari, the KEBS Managing Director, and Juma Mukhwana, the Industry Principal Secretary.

During the meeting, Patel elaborated on events surrounding the manufacture and supply of the fertiliser and explained the company’s due diligence measures.

“The Head of Public Service Felix Koskei walked into the meeting at around 7pm and asked me to recant the statements on the circumstances surrounding the distribution of the fertiliser,” said Patel.

He also revealed that Ngari kept saying, “You are the people making substandard fertiliser. I want you to punish them, Mr Koskei. I’m coming to close your factories.”

“Mr Koskei thereafter asked for our arrest with Mr Ngetich and we were taken to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (headquarters). We were arrested without being informed of the reason, without legal representation and instructed to write a statement under duress. We were later taken to Muthaiga Police Station until April 5,” stated the operations manager.

Patel further submitted that on April 6, he was taken to KEL Chemicals plant in Thika by officers from Muthaiga Police Station and officers from DCI. Officials from KRA were also present.

“After two hours of the group moving around the plant, the DCI team seized the fertiliser of 3,390 bags of 50 kgs each. At around 6.35 pm, I was taken back to Muthaiga Police Station and released on a bond of Sh100,000,” he added.