KENYA: ODM to probe maize scandal

Beleaguered Agriculture Minister William Ruto continued to be swamped by pressure to quit — from the floor of Parliament to the maize fields of Eldoret.


In Nairobi, Prime Minister Raila Odinga moved swiftly to redeem ODM's
image by forming a five-member committee to investigate the maize scam
and report to him in two weeks.

More pressure continued in Parliament, with Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale
(New Ford-K) who first implicated Mr Ruto. Last night, Dr Khalwale
filed a notice of censure against Ruto.

"I am pushing with the idea of having this minister (Ruto) censured. I
am sure I will succeed. I have secured unimaginable number of support
from concerned colleagues," Khalwale told The Standard.

On Monday night, Raila formed the committee, comprising Cabinet
Ministers Helen Sambili (Sport), James Orengo (Lands) and Paul Otuoma
(Fisheries) and Assistant ministers Dhadho Godana (Information) and
James Gesami (Public Health and Sanitation).

The five have been meeting every day this week and are expected to present their findings to the PM soon.

Separately, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission interrogated several
MPs in connection with irregular purchase of maize from the National
Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).

Carried placards

But it was the group of placard-waving farmers in the North Rift that
surprised Ruto's supporters when they demonstrated outside the Eldoret
NCPB and carried placards calling for his resignation.

The farmers said they stopped delivering maize to NCPB because of the involvement of brokers and low prices.

Some demonstrators also called on "Kibaki and Raila act on corruption at the Ministry of Agriculture".

Mr Nicholas Maiyo, one of the demonstrators, said: "If he cannot
resign, the President and the Prime Minister should do something
because we are equally suffering from this mess."

But elsewhere in the town, ten civic leaders rallied to Ruto's defence,
saying he was being targeted by cartels in the agricultural sector.

The councillors said it was all a plan to deny Ruto a chance to contest the presidency in 2012.

But while the public displays came and went as soon as they started,
perhaps Ruto should be more worried by the audit ordered by the Prime
Minister.

Team given one week

Yesterday, a member of the committee investigating the maize scam, who
spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity, said the committee
would hand over its report to the PM next week.

The party has also put MPs on high alert, with a parliamentary group
meeting scheduled soon after the report is handed to the PM.

"It is a matter of national concern. We are looking at it keenly, just
to make sure we, as a party, understand what really took place and
whether the minister played any role," said another member of the
committee.

The ODM team has already met some civil servants in the Prime Minister's office who have been implicated in the scandal.

"We have met some people and we are going to meet all the mentioned MPs
from our party. We must be ready to trace this scandal with care," said
an insider.

MPs expected to meet the ODM committee are Mr Isaac Ruto (Chepalungu),
Mr Sammy Mwaita (Baringo Central), Mr Pollyns Ochieng' (Nyakach), Mr
Fred Kapondi (Mt Elgon) and Mr Magerer Lang'at (Kipkelion).

The Agriculture minister has already given his account to the committee.

Broke ranks

Meanwhile, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Assistant Minister
William Cheptumo yesterday broke ranks with his boss, Ms Martha Karua,
over calls for Ruto to resign.

Karua had challenged Ruto to explain why subsidised maize was sold to unauthorised businesspeople.

But Cheptumo appealed to leaders to stop condemning individuals before due process.

"I fear we are developing a culture of condemning people, prosecuting
and sentencing them unheard. We are a country which believes in the
rule of law and we should be able to abide by this," said Cheptumo in
an interview.

The assistant minister asked those who have evidence against Ruto to take it to KACC, which is investigating the matter.

"Until the investigations are over, let us not condemn the minister.
Let us handle this matter soberly and not emotionally," said Cheptumo.

In a related development, Cabinet Minister and ODM Secretary-General
Anyang' Nyong'o sent a statement to newsrooms distancing himself from a
memo that he claimed had been circulating on the Internet, and which he
said had been forged with the purpose of tarnishing the names of ODM
leaders.

"This is cheap politics and should be treated with the contempt it deserves," Prof Nyong'o said.

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