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Investigation launched into mystery of missing grain

Saturday January 17 2009

Detectives are trying to unearth details of the

Detectives are trying to unearth details of the scandal that resulted in an acute maize shortage. 

By DAVID OKWEMBAH and FRED MUKINDA

Detectives have moved in to investigate the extent of a scandal in which maize worth hundreds of millions of shillings was moved from the country’s main reserves and allegedly exported by unscrupulous middlemen.

Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officers have so far questioned four senior officers at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to establish how the tonnes of maize ended up in the hands of briefcase millers.

Summon officials

The detectives closed in on the corporation as the Public Accounts Committee, a parliamentary watchdog body, announced it would summon senior government officials over the scandals that have rocked the country over the past few weeks.

The detectives are trying to unearth details of the scandal that resulted in an acute maize shortage, causing the cost of a packet of flour to rise to Sh120 towards the end of last year.

The detectives want to find out how briefcase millers were able to transport thousands of bags of maize from NCPB and sell it in neighbouring Southern Sudan to earn super profits at a time when the country is facing an acute maize shortage. The middlemen are also suspected to have posed as millers to obtain bags of maize.

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NCPB faces accusations that the briefcase millers obtained the maize at prices well below the market rates. The senior officers were questioned on Friday last week and their statements recorded.

The unfolding maize scandal could cost Kenyan taxpayers a whopping Sh825 million, according to sources within the government.

The investigation comes in the wake of reports that the ministry of Agriculture issued letters to middlemen and businessmen posing as millers to secure huge quantities of maize from the NCPB, the Sunday Nation has established.

The letters addressed to Prof Gideon Misoi, the managing director of the NCPB, were to facilitate the handing over of maize to the middlemen at the expense of genuine millers.

It is such letters that ended up pushing the price of maize flour from Sh70 to a staggering Sh120 for a 2 kg packet last month.

Sources at the NCPB told the Sunday Nation that top officers at Kilimo House coerced them into giving the fast-dwindling supply of maize to the businessmen who would later sell each bag at exorbitant prices to the millers.

Sacking

This comes in the wake of reports that three senior officers who were recommended for sacking five years ago by the Inspectorate of State Corporations are still employees of the board.

In one of the letters in our possession, the chairman of Western Regional Millers, P.M. Musindi, sought to be allocated 50,000 bags of maize from the board and sought the assistance of a senior officer at the ministry of Agriculture.

Last week, members of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture held a press conference where they named businessmen they claimed were involved in the scandal, including Members of Parliament.

In his letter to the NCPB, Mr Musindi, who claims to run a milling company in Kakamega town and produces the Tosha brand of maize flour, sought to collect his share of the allocation from depots spread from Kipkaren, Loitokitok, Industrial Area, Thika, Kitale and Moi’s Bridge to Machakos.

“We shall be very much appreciative if you could humbly allocate us the said bags of white maize for purchase,” Mr Musindi states in his letter to the board’s sales and marketing manager.
While Mr Musindi refused to disclose whether he has collected the consignment, sources at the board confirmed that the businessman eventually picked up the maize from various depots.

Collected letters

Mr Musindi is just one among many businessmen and middlemen who collected letters from Kilimo House before presenting them to NCPB officials in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.

In one hand-written letter dated September 4, 2008, the senior officer from Kilimo House told Prof Misoi; “This is the gentleman I was discussing with you. Please assist.”

The letter eventually secured Mr Musindi 50,000 bags of maize even as millers made long, winding queues at the NCPB stores in Nairobi.

On Thursday when reached by mobile phone, the businessman claimed he and Prof Misoi were about to board a flight at Kisumu airport and that he would come to our offices to shed more light on the transaction. By the time of going to press, he had not shown up.

“What do you want? Prof Misoi and myself are just about to board a plane to Nairobi. I will see you in your office tomorrow,” Mr Musindi said.

Western Regional Millers is one of the firms the Sunday Nation named last week as a small operation that had been allocated huge quantities of maize last December. This despite the fact that the company does not own any known mill in Kenya or Kakamega as it claimed in papers presented to NCPB.

Suspected briefcase millers and businessmen were allocated 80,000 bags of maize valued at Sh150 million.

Other suspect millers and middlemen who inflated their milling capacity include Temusi, alleged to be in Ongata Rongai, Valley Posho Mill of Nakuru and Beada Millers of the same town.

Also allocated huge stocks of maize just two days before Christmas Day was Milling Corporation which collapsed last August. The defunct company was allocated 12,000 bags of maize on December 22, 2008; it is not known who collected the maize.

The 80,000 bags of maize were reportedly sent to Southern Sudan where they fetched more than 300 per cent profit.