First Lady caught up in maize row

lucy_kibaki.jpgFirst Lady Lucy Kibaki was on Wednesday sensationally caught up in the controversy over the sale of maize from government stores.

Budalang'i MP Ababu Namwamba produced documents which claimed to show
that the First Lady is one of the directors of Gingalili (1968) Ltd,
which bought maize on October 22, last year, from the national stores.
The Speaker of the National Assembly will decide whether the documents
are authentic.

In reply, the First Family, through the President's press service
described the allegations as false and meant to deflect public
attention from a serious matter of availability and affordability of

Stormy debate

In the House, Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim said: The chair will verify
their authenticity at a later moment and communicate to this House, he

Mr Namwamba dropped the bombshell during a session of stormy debate
regarding the sale of maize, bought at taxpayers' expense, from the
national grain store managed by the National Cereals and Produce Board
(NCPB). The law allows Kenyans to buy maize from the board, just as it
allows the board to sell all the grain it deals in.

However, maize bought from farmers with public money is meant to be
kept in reserve and released during famine or when prices rise. The
mismanagement of the stores by selling discounted maize to brokers has
created an artificial shortage, pushing up the price of maize meal, the
country's staple.

State House accused Mr Namwamba of abusing parliamentary privilege.
The First Lady has never engaged in any acts that may compromise the
public good and has the option of seeking redress against wild and
unfounded allegations of Hon Namwamba, said the statement.

MPs cannot be sued for anything they say on the floor of the House
though parliamentary rules bind them to be fair and protect the
reputations of those who can't defend themselves on the floor.

On Wednesday, Agriculture minister William Ruto was required to explain
to the House why the country has no maize at a time when 10 million
Kenyans are faced with starvation and the government is issuing
international food appeals.

Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale presented documents which sought to link
top officials of the Agriculture ministry with the alleged
disappearance of maize from the national store, known as the Strategic

Amid points of order and other interruptions, which saw Mr Maalim
threaten to throw out some members, Mr Khalwale for the second time in
as many weeks repeated claims that Mr Ruto misled the House over the
sale of maize.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Martha Karua and assistant
minister Charles Keter had urged the deputy Speaker to make a ruling on
the authenticity of the documents presented by Mr Namwamba.

He presented documents which he claimed proved that NCPB managers sold
maize to some companies following telephone instructions by the
minister and that Mr Ruto's personal assistant wrote notes using the
minister's letterhead asking that some companies be allocated maize.

He produced documents he said were from an Indian company supplying
gunny bags to NCPB linking it to a company in which Mr Ruto has an

The minister should clear the air that he is not involved in the
syndicate with a multiplicity of players, he said. Mr Khalwale also
tabled documents which he said showed that two MPs were beneficiaries
of maize allocations.

He also gave other documents which he said showed that NCPB bosses gave
maize to companies which he said did not have the capacity to mill it.
During a maize shortage, the board is supposed to release maize only to
millers depending on their capacity to make maize flour.

Can this minister tell us if all the companies that were allocated
maize by NCPB were deserving? His duty is to jealously safeguard maize
stocks at the cereals board, said the MP.

He said Mombasa Maize Millers was given 600,000 bags in two months
while a company associated with an Eldoret politician-cum farmer, Mr
Jackson Kibor, was given 150,000 bags over the same period. Maize was
also given to briefcase companies, said Dr Khalwale.

The MP implied that Mr Ruto's failure to sack NCPB managing director
Gideon Misoi, the marketing manager and the chief accountant may have
something to do with the maize sales.

Probably if I am allowed to go deeper, there is a reason as to why
this minister did not sack the three managers at the NCPB, he said.

A fortnight ago, Mr Ruto called the Press to announce that he had
trimmed the NCPB board of trustees from 16 to four members and sacked
senior managers. It is not clear whether ministers are empowered to
sack staff in parastatals.

Basis of sackings

Mr Ruto said he had contracted Deloitte and Touche, a human resource
consultancy, to study how NCPB could be restructured because of the
crisis it was facing. We got the report and this formed the basis of
the sackings at NCPB, he said.

On Wednesday, Dr Khalwale said Mr Ruto had told the public that maize
stocks in the grain stores in June last year were 1.6 million bags
while investigations allegedly showed that there were 2.6 million bags.
Can this minister explain what happened to the difference?

He wanted to know why the minister had denied that maize had been
exported to Southern Sudan and quoted Prime Minister Raila Odinga to
prove his point. Mr Odinga had recently announced that he had suspended
an aide involved in the export of maize.

Mr Ruto, in response, described the Ikolomani MP's allegations as
unfortunate and accused him of insincerity and dishonesty. The minister
strongly defended his association with the African Merchant Assurance
Company (Amaco), saying he was just a shareholder. He explained that
all individuals who bought maize from NCPB did so within the law.

Contraband product

The NCPB Act allows the board to sell maize to millers, distributors,
individuals or any Kenyan for that matter. Maize is not a contraband
product. There is no crime when one buys maize from the cereals board;
it only arises when one fails to pay for it, he said.

The minister, even as he said it was normal for him to write notes, was
categorical that he never wrote any note to the NCPB to sell maize to a
particular MP or a specific company. He challenged the House to state
whether the cereals board managers had complained that he interfered in
the allocation of maize.

William Ruto, the minister for Agriculture, did not write any note to
someone to sell maize to a particular individual or company. In any
case, is it criminal to write a note to assist someone? he asked.

Defending those who had been named to have written notes, he challenged
the members to state whether the notes were in contravention of the
law. If a member can prove that so and so wrote a note that broke this
or that law, I will take action against the mentioned person, he said.
Mr Maalim postponed debate to Thursday afternoon.

Daily Nation

Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *