Blow by blow reply to maize graft claims in Miguna book

Wednesday July 18 2012

Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and Chief of Staff Caroli Omondi delivers the Maize Scandal Reports to the Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the presentation of the report by Pricewaterhousecoopers on February 11, 2010 at the KICC in Nairobi. Photo/FILE

Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and Chief of Staff Caroli Omondi delivers the Maize Scandal Reports to the Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the presentation of the report by Pricewaterhousecoopers on February 11, 2010 at the KICC in Nairobi. Photo/FILE 

By SARAH ELDERKIN

Among other fallacious claims and far-fetched stories in his book Peeling Back the Mask, Miguna Miguna seeks to show that Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his office staff were involved in a maize scam, whose details became public in January 2009.

This followed the 2008 lifting of the ban on the importation of maize, in order to plug the local shortfall. Read (Peel back the mask Miguna wears, and get a man with delusions of grandeur)

There were, in fact, two concurrent areas of contention. In brief, one was that various people, including parliamentarians in the pay of certain others, had allegedly been given blank allocation letters signed by officials in the ministries of agriculture, finance and special programmes, allowing them to collect large quantities of maize from the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR). Under regulations, only millers are allowed to do so.

The favoured politicians and others never collected the maize – they were, after all, not millers – but they allegedly sold the letters of allocation to millers, who filled in their own names and then collected the maize.

This they retailed at an inflated price, covering the cost of what they had been forced to pay in acquiring the allocation letters, on average Sh500 per bag. Since tens of thousands of bags were involved, various persons were awash with money.

Because of these allegations, the Prime Minister suspended the minister for agriculture at the time, William Ruto. Ruto was promptly reinstated by President Mwai Kibaki. There was no probe.

The second area of contention was that the PM’s chief of staff, Caroli Omondi, had allegedly personally issued instructions to the SGR to order maize into the country, and had also told the managing director of the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to release contaminated maize on to the market and enhance its price.

On the Prime Minister’s instructions, Omondi, together with the PM’s PS, Dr Mohammed Isahakia, who was also accused in related matters, stepped aside on February 13, 2009, for three months, while investigations took place.

In other words, the Prime Minister took appropriate action on both fronts. He suspended Ruto and he suspended Omondi and Isahakia.

What else was he supposed to do? Kibaki removed the matter from any investigatory hands on one front.

On the other, Omondi and Isahakia remained suspended until the evidence for the accusations against them had been examined.

The NCPB had a 2008-2009 programme for the importation of more than 161,000 metric tonnes of white maize, some 1.5 million bags of it from Tanzania.

Ruto was in discussion with Tanzania at the time of a meeting on July 30, 2008, attended by the PM, minister of state for special programmes Dr Naomi Shabaan, then minister for finance John Michuki, several PSs, representatives of the NCPB, Omondi, Isahakia and a number of others.

The meeting noted that “the unit price [of the bags of maize] will be known when the minister for agriculture reports back”.

A committee was established, consisting of the PSs in the ministries of finance and agriculture, the NCPB MD and Omondi, to negotiate the “favourable import of maize” from a number of potential suppliers in different countries.

The next meeting, with the same attendees as that of July 30, was held on August 19, 2008.

The meeting accepted the proposals presented by the negotiating committee for maize imports from various suppliers, including Afgri Trading (Pty) Ltd in SA. It was not Caroli Omondi personally, as wildly alleged by Miguna, who ordered the maize.

The SA maize arrived at the port of Mombasa and was inspected by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), whose November 28, 2008, certificate of inspection declared the maize “passed for discharge”.

Discoloured layer

Kephis detailed the checks made, and noted that the maize had arrived in four separate hatches.

The maize in hatches 1, 2 and 4 was found to be fine. The top of the maize in hatch 3 had been damaged when the hatch cover had opened to the elements as the ship sailed to Mombasa.

Kephis advised the ship agents “to remove the top discoloured layer and only discharge the clean bottom layer”.

Then a letter from the NCPB, dated December 19, 2008, informed Grain Bulk Handlers in Mombasa that the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS) had cleared the rest of the consignment to be discharged – but that the maize in hatch 3 would only be used for animal feed processing.

Beth Mugo, the minister for public health and sanitation, now came into the picture.

In a letter dated February 18, 2009, she informed John Mutotho, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, that her ministry was directing that the maize in hatch 3 be shipped back to its country of origin.

The matter became the subject of a court case, after the NCPB lodged a claim for the damage with their insurers, and the ship owner challenged the KBS analysis.

After some time, the contaminated maize was re-exported, under the supervision of then Kenya Revenue Authority commissioner-general Michael Waweru.

A letter of confirmation from him was tabled in parliament by the Prime Minister. The contaminated maize was not released into the local market.

Much later, in May 2010, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and the Inspectorate of State Corporations presented the report of their subsequent investigations.

Concerning the release of maize from the SGR, they criticised the PSs in the ministries of finance, agriculture and special programmes, who were responsible for management of SGR maize stocks, for “lack of clear policy guidelines”, in the absence of which “the Cabinet clearly directed that the imported maize be sold to ‘millers’.”

It is interesting to note that the report placed the word ‘millers’ in inverted commas.

It goes on to say that the three PSs had “primary responsibility for the Subsidized Maize Scheme but they failed to monitor the implementation of the scheme”.

The report found that there was no formally registered group who comprised ‘millers’ and said, “This created a major loophole in which unscrupulous traders connived with NCPB managers (Prof [Gideon] Misoi, Mr [James] Boit and Mr [Robert] Langat) to allocate SGR subsidised maize.”

The report recommended disciplinary action against Dr Romano M Kiome, PS agriculture, Ali D Mohammed, PS special programmes, and Joseph Kinyua, PS finance.

On several counts, it recommended administrative disciplinary action variously against the PSs and several of their officers for “negligence of duty and misuse of office”, and similar action against Misoi, Boit and Langat.

Regarding Isahakia, the investigators found that he was not involved in maize distribution, as accused, and had not influenced the allocation of maize, nor benefited from any “facilitation fee” It recommended review of the administrative action taken against him (ie, lifting his suspension from office).

Suspension lifted

With regard to Omondi, the report recommended that his suspension also be lifted, in view of the fact that he had been part of the properly established negotiating committee that had recommended various maize imports from different countries at a price in the range approved by the larger committee and from an approved list of potential suppliers. There was no malpractice.

The report concluded that “the importation of maize was done above board and in the best interest of the country.

However, the distribution of both the imported maize and the SGR maize was marred with irregularities and the directive of the Cabinet that the maize be sold to millers was ignored. Consequently the subsidised maize ended up enriching a few unscrupulous businessmen.”

Not Caroli Omondi. And not Mohammed Isahakia. Questions remain, and have never been investigated, about how maize stocks left the SGR.

Throughout his book, Miguna attempts to capitalise in this way on any known anti- Raila Odinga propaganda topic.

One allegation is that Raila Odinga has used his official position to make money for himself and enhance his business interests.

Mr Odinga established his first company, EA Spectre, in 1970.

He and his father before him struggled against tremendous odds and government malfeasance and interference to establish their family businesses.

Notwithstanding that, Mr Odinga would be a pretty poor businessman if he had failed to increase his portfolio of companies or expand their operations in the 42 years since.

But that has never involved corrupt practice. Raila Odinga has NEVER been involved in taking advantage of his office for personal gain.

All the things mentioned by Miguna in his book, such as the involvement of a South African partner in EA Spectre and affiliated companies (and there is no law against this), happened long before Mr Odinga ever became prime minister.

What is more, NONE of Mr Odinga’s companies actually deals with the government.

Since he has been prime minister, Mr Odinga has worked tremendously hard to ensure up-and-coming businessmen and women in the private sector have an easier time than he ever did in establishing and running their companies.

In addition, when he travels out of the country, the Prime Minister usually takes with him a battery of businessmen and women, so that they have the opportunity to meet their opposite numbers in the US, South Africa, Singapore, Korea, India, China and so on, and progress Kenya’s trade and investment programme.

One of the most successful of Mr Odinga’s initiatives has been the Prime Minister’s Round Table.

Under this initiative, the private sector, led by Vimal Shah of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, has been able to meet with PSs and ministers and remove many of the roadblocks to business operations.

These include matters concerning bureaucracy and red tape, taxation, work permits, police roadblocks, infrastructure and security and so on.

Mr Shah told me this week that there was no doubt that this had had a tremendous impact on the climate for doing business.

“It is the very first time we have ever been able to meet with heads of state,” he said. “This has never happened before. It has led to productive alignment of thought processes between government and the private sector.”

He added that the business community was very pleased with the progress so far attained and was thinking about where they wanted to go to take the country forward to realisation of the Vision 2030 goals.

“We want to make Vision 2030 a reality,” he said, “and to do that we need leaders and decision-makers who recognise the importance of consulting and listening, not dictating.”

There is no doubt that the consultative initiatives and the focus both in and outside the country on trade and investment mark Raila Odinga out as such a leader.

Finally, another of Miguna’s charges is that Raila Odinga practises nepotism.

Once again sitting on The Bench this week prior to his sudden departure from the country, Miguna told his host, Capital Talk host Jeff Koinange (who was suitably “outraged” – Jeff, please, take my advice and get some acting lessons!) that Raila, since he became PM, had appointed to public positions a number of his relatives.

This is a cheap shot, and it is a cheap shot not mainly against Raila Odinga but against people who have made their mark in Kenyan life and who have worked very hard and in a committed and focused way for the positions they have achieved.

Let us take, for example, Raila’s sister, Wenwa, currently the consul-general at the Kenya consulate in Los Angeles.

Prior to her appointment, the highly intelligent Wenwa was professor of organic chemistry at the University of Nairobi.

She had been in line for a diplomatic appointment for a long time, and had been passed over on several previous occasions when less qualified people from – what shall we say? – another community had been appointed in her stead.

Wenwa, who appears in the Kenya Book of Records as the first Kenyan woman to obtain a doctorate in chemistry, has long experience in the public sector.

She joined the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya as senior chemist in charge of research and development and was later promoted to the post of chief chemist, becoming the first woman to head a department there.

She worked with the Commission for Higher Education, in charge of curriculum development for private universities in Kenya.

She has been secretary of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake and sits on the boards of governors of several schools.

She has many other appointments under her belt and is a member of many professional bodies, including the Natural Products Research Network for Eastern and Central Africa and the National Steering Committee for the Development of Science and Technology Parks.

Now, is such an accomplished woman, someone who has patiently waited her turn for appointment and has been passed over for questionable reasons, supposed to disappear into the village because her brother holds a senior public position?

Miguna also mentioned Jakoyo Midiwo, MP for Gem, ODM chief whip in parliament and Raila’s cousin. According to Miguna, Raila appointed Midiwo to his post.

Understand Parliament

Perhaps Miguna does not understand how parliament works. The chief whip is elected by the parliamentary group.

The Prime Minister and ODM party leader had nothing to do with Midiwo’s appointment.

If members of parliament of their own volition decide to elect a certain individual as their whip, or, indeed, to any other position, what would happen if the PM interfered?

Apparently, he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. That’s very convenient for a character assassin such as Miguna.

Then we come to Raila’s brother, Dr Oburu Oginga. Oburu has been an MP for three terms.

During the first two terms, he was never appointed to any ministry. Raila never appointed him when he had the opportunity. Oburu was a backbencher throughout.

Does somebody who has been returned to parliament three times deserve consideration for appointment? Many people might reasonably think so.

Leave alone that. Oburu has a doctorate in economics. He was senior economist and planning officer in government for 20 years.

He has given outstanding service in the public sector. Would that experience be useful in government, do we think?

Oburu was chosen to understudy a minister who had no experience or background whatsoever in finance or planning.

A reasonable response might be, thank God Oburu was there. There is nothing reasonable about Miguna’s response.

Likewise unreasonable is Miguna’s claim that “Raila made sure there was only one assistant minister in that ministry”.

What nonsense! Many ministries have only one assistant minister. How many are there in trade, public health and others?

Finance and planning originally had two but the portfolio was a joint one, later separated into two separate ministries, finance, and planning.

It is a total non-issue, but Miguna will pass up nothing he can use to cast aspersions, however ridiculous.

Scraping the barrel, he even has to pick on Midiwo’s brother-in-law. That is, Raila’s cousin’s wife’s brother. This is Elkanah Odembo, Kenya’s ambassador to the US.

Odembo, another accomplished individual highly respected internationally, was chairman of the Kenya National Council of Non-Governmental Organisations and the founding director of the Ufadhili Trust, the Centre for Philanthropy and Social Responsibility, which seeks to promote the spirit of giving, philanthropy and the use of local resources to improve people’s lives through corporate social responsibility, cross-sector partnership, technical assistance and policy research.

He was previously a consultant to the Ford Foundation and the East Africa Representative for World Neighbours, chairman of the Kenya Community Development Foundation, lead facilitator for the Kenya Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Consultation Process, and a member of the selection committee for the UNDP Africa 2000 Project.

He was a founding member of the NGO Coalition for East Africa, a member of the National Advisory Committee for Health Research, of the NGO Co-ordination Board of Kenya, and of the National Committee for Social Dimensions of Development. He is a fellow of the Africa Leadership Initiative.

Extremely professional

Odembo is extremely professionally distinguished. And all of this was achieved long before Raila Odinga ever became Prime Minister.

Odembo has spent his life passionately committed to bringing development to the rural and underprivileged in society.

His quiet, elegant, composed and focused demeanour (the absolute antithesis of Someone We Know), together with his vast experience and respected intellect, make him the perfect choice for a senior diplomatic position.

Is Odembo supposed to be denied this because his sister made the “mistake” of getting married to Raila’s cousin?

Are we, as a nation, for the same reason supposed to be denied the outstanding contribution such a person can make to public life?

The question is, should anyone be forced to languish in the wilderness, unable to receive due recognition for their work, their careers stagnating for years on end, simply because one of their relatives happens to be in office?

Is only one person per family allowed to be successful and play a role in Kenya?

These appointees are intelligent, highly trained, committed people. There are many such people in Kenya.

And among everyone appointed, only a few can claim some kind of kinship with Raila Odinga.

As the PM himself has pointed out, hundreds of Luos have been appointed to different public positions.

He himself is not the relative of all Luos. Did he not appoint Miguna? Is Miguna his relative?

Miguna has also complained that some Luos have been relieved of their appointments for various reasons, and sometimes replaced by people of different tribes. So what?

Is the Prime Minister PM for Luos alone? Once again, the PM is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

The whole issue is nothing less than a straw man, built by Miguna for the sole purpose of tearing it down and attempting to destroy a man’s reputation with it.

To all those calling for the PM to respond to the “charges” in Miguna’s book, I say, what “charges”?

These are not “charges” but the ravings of a man disordered by his personal sense of revenge. Just as Miguna unleashed more than 20 speculative, futile and ultimately dismissed cases against the Queen of England and the Canadian authorities after his trial in 2003, so he has now unleashed his fury against Raila Odinga.

It is a pattern of behaviour for Miguna. It says nothing about the objects of his fury and everything about himself.

‘Answer charges’

It is amusing but unsurprising to see how some opportunistic politicians have jumped on the bandwagon, also calling for the PM to “answer charges”.

They have no shame, just like Miguna. Did Barack Obama answer the “charges” contained in the books, The Obama Nation and Unfit for Command by Miguna’s friend, the infamous Jerome Corsi? You bet he didn’t. He didn’t lower himself.

Does anyone really think a whole Prime Minister is going to debase himself by personally responding to the rantings, innuendo, gross inaccuracies, false claims and insults of a man like Miguna?

If they do, they expect the unreasonable. If anyone wants to take the PM to a court of law, that is when he will answer “charges”.

Until then, this is as good as it gets, folks. Now, at the end of a nearly a week filled with gleeful hysteria and ranting, perhaps we can all calm down, get back to normal life and concentrate on the things that matter to this country.