Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Raila on the spot over contaminated maize

Casual workers load tonnes of maize at the port of Mombasa. Photo/FILE

Casual workers load tonnes of maize at the port of Mombasa. Some 6,000 metric tonnes of contaminated maize are said to be held at the port. Photo/FILE 

By NATION Team

Prime Minister Raila Odinga was on Wednesday put on the spot in Parliament over the controversial 6,000 metric tonnes of contaminated maize held in Mombasa, with MPs insisting that it was illegally off-loaded and released to the public.

Tabling documents to prove their allegations, some MPs accused the Prime Minister and his office of personal involvement in the maize saga.

They claimed the contaminated maize, imported from South Africa, was off-loaded and discharged into the local market with the knowledge of the PM, and that what was lying at the silos in Mombasa was clean maize put there to conceal the discharging of the contaminated batch.

Dismissed

But Mr Odinga dismissed the allegations, insisting the all 6,350 tonnes of disputed maize was intact and under the ‘’safe’’ custody of the Kenya Revenue Authority. He tabled a letter from KRA boss Michael Waweru dated yesterday, confirming that the maize was in the authority’s custody.

“The said maize has not been released to the public, millers or any other third party,’’ said the PM, accusing MPs of playing politics. Among the documents tabled was an affidavit sworn by the Kenya Bureau of Standards Managing Director Dr Kioko Mang’eli, in which he accuses the Prime Minister and officials in his office of putting pressure on him to authorise the maize in dispute.

The affidavit, tabled by Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau and dated May 12, 2009, also accuses officials of the National Cereals and Produce Board of pushing him to approve the releasing of the maize into the market.

But the PM criticised Kebs, which has declared the consignment unfit for human consumption, saying it issued contradictory statements on the matter, and that its findings had been contradicted by other testing organisations such as Kephis. “Public confidence in quality assurance institutions has been shaken by these events. The credibility of our testing institutions are in question,’’ he said.

Mr Kiema Kilonzo (ODM-K, Mutito) told the House that a sub-committee comprising Permanent Secretaries appointed by the PM to travel to Mombasa to check the status of the disputed maize had questioned the manner in which the maize was off-loaded.

Reading from a letter addressed to the Head of the Civil service Francis Muthaura by the PS in Ministry of Industrialisation, Prof John Lanyangapuo, the MP said the committee had questioned why the maize was removed in the absence of government inspectorate agencies and security forces.

Heavy security

“If it was found necessary to move the disputed maize from the ship, then it should have been taken to the government warehouse under heavy security surveillance but not to a private warehouse as the position is currently,’’ he quoted the letter.

The team concluded that it was not in a position to tell “whether the maize they were seeing was the same as what they saw when they were with the PM”, he added.

Responding to a challenge by Mr Kilonzo on why he had not attached Prof Lonyangapuo’s letter to the list of his supporting documents, Mr Odinga said the letter had not been addressed to him, and accused the committee of being defensive.

Reported by Caroline Wafula, Alphonce Shiundu and Njeri Rugene

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