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NCPB officials grilled over Sh3.5b delayed pay for maize farmers

By Silah Koskei | September 29th 2018
Senators Margaret Kamar (centre) and Samson Cherargei (second right) sample maize at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) Eldoret depot yesterday. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) officials in Eldoret were yesterday put to task over fraudulent payments, importation of maize from Mexico and association with traders who carted away millions of shillings at the expense of genuine farmers.

The officials were grilled by the Senate ad-hoc committee investigating maize crisis after the team visited the North Rift NCPB regional depot on a fact-finding mission.

The officials absolved themselves from any blame as to who should take responsibility on the current state of maize farmers yet to be paid Sh3.5 billion for the produce they delivered to the depots over eight months ago.

The committee was led by Senator Margaret Kamar (Uasin Gishu) and Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) and comprised Kiprotich Cherargey (Nandi), Petronillah Were (Nominated) and Christopher Langat (Bomet).

The members sought to know why genuine farmers are yet to be paid, whether the NCPB followed due process in vetting the farmers and whether it is able to absorb the current harvest.

NCPB officials led by Jonah Marindich, operations manager at the main office, and Gilbert Rotich, the regional manager, were at pains to explain why the board bought 700,000 tonnes of maize on behalf of millers at the expense of farmers who had grains at their stores.

Wetang’ula lifted the lid when he told the officials that on April 13 and October 17 last year, maize from Mexico was allowed into the country, with NCPB importing the produce.

Rejected on flimsy grounds

“Records from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and headquarters reveal to us that the same grains was sold to cereals boards and these importers walked away with Sh18 billion profit.

“Why did you use taxpayers’ money to pay importers instead of purchasing maize from local farmers?” posed the senator.

Marindich said the NCPB’s role was to dispatch maize to millers. He said the board did not pay for maize from Mexico.

“We only distributed the grains and there was a balance of 658,000 bags, but they were later handed over to millers,” he said.

“As Senate, we are here to find answers and from our recent engagement with farmers, it is clear that there are those who sold their produce while at queues, others also told us that their grains were rejected on flimsy grounds but when they sold it to traders, it was quickly accepted at the depots, is that a fair deal?” asked Kamar.

She said farmers are willing to swear an affidavit on the setbacks they faced while waiting for NCPB to approve their produce.

The officials used the platform to defend their role, saying they followed every step before farmers were paid.

“There are steps to be followed and the key players include chiefs, county officials and ward administrators who are responsible in endorsement. Produce was only rejected if its moisture content was above 13 per cent,” said Marindich.

The officials were unable to produce the current list of farmers, and the senators demanded that the list be made and presented to the Senate clerk.

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