Mercy Mwai @wangumarci
Amid calls for his resignation, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri yesterday stuck to his guns, insisting that his position on the food situation in the country, including the plan to import maize, is the government’s position.
Appearing before the Agriculture Committee of the National Assembly, Kiunjuri said he was the only person authorised to speak on behalf of the government on food matters.
But seven legislators called on him to quit, accusing him of irregularly authorising the release of Sh1.8 billion from the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR) to pay a company, Commodities House, allegedly without the board’s approval.
The MPs claimed the money was part of the Sh12 billion earmarked for priority areas such as clearance of debts owed to maize farmers as well as the purchase of more maize.
The legislators, Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany), Silas Tiren (Moiben), Caleb Amisi (Saboti), Robert Pukose (Endebes), Marwa Maisuri (Kuria East) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills), now want the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to launch investigations into why the payments were made without the knowledge of SFR Board.
Besides the CS, the legislators also want his Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga to resign to pave way for investigations.
“We have received credible information that Sh1.8 billion was irregularly withdrawn from the account of the Strategic Food Reserve at the Central Bank of Kenya to pay a company associated with maize importation cartels in the country. The money was withdrawn and wired to the company trading as Commodities House without the approval of the board,” Kutuny told a press conference at Parliament Buildings.
The MPs tabled a July 9 letter from the chairman of the Strategic Food Reserve Oversight Board Noah Wekesa protesting the cash withdrawals which he said were unlawful.
But Kiunjuri absolved himself of blame, insisting that the Sh1.8 billion was part of the pending bills incurred by the ministry and had to be cleared following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that all bills be cleared.
He said the Sh1.8 billion was part of Sh 3.6 billion that the government owes Commodities House, adding that it was not the only pending bill that the ministry was dealing with as it also owes other companies such as ETG Sh 488 million and Dolphins Sh61 million.
Kiunjuri said the government’s decision to import more maize is pegged on the realisation that the produce being brought in from Tanzania and Uganda is not enough to sustain the country hence the need to source more from the Comesa region.
“Any statement I issue, I speak on behalf of the government and not as Mwangi Kiunjuri. When I speak here, I represent the government’s position. Those doubting Thomases should stop pushing me to the wall,” said the CS.
Accompanied by top officers from the ministry, Kiunjuri said the country has a deficit of six million bags of maize and accused Wekesa of insubordination and of writing rude letters to him and his PS.
“If Wekesa has taken upon himself to challenge a minister, this is insubordination. If he wants that route then it is fine,” he said.
Kiunjuri has publicly disagreed with Wekesa on the plan to import maize, with Wekesa there is a deficit of only two million bags.
But the legislators said they were drafting a motion to remove Kiunjuri from office on the grounds that he had failed Kenyans and the appointing authority, the President.
In the letter tabled by the legislators, Wekesa is quoted telling Kiunjuri that the payment was against the law as the Ministry had bypassed the board in making the huge payments.
They claimed the board’s priority was to clear pending bills to maize, pay part of NCPB debt, cater for the requisite reserve and budget for the purchase of maize harvested in 2019/20.
On Tuesday, the Agriculture committee led by Adan Haji (Mandera West) had said there was no maize crisis in the country as the maize being held by farmers, millers, traders and the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) was enough to sustain the country until the September harvest.
Addressing a news conference at Parliament Buildings yesterday, the MPs had raised concern that allowing maize importation would open the doors for cartels and unscrupulous business people to bring in the commodity at the expense of farmers.
State House also said on Tuesday that the government was alive to the unease the maize situation had caused and said a comprehensive statement on the issue would be issued later.
“We know that the issue has caused a lot of anxiety but it is being dealt with and direction will soon be given,” State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena said.