A government agency that replaced the iconic Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) and three other research organisations is in the middle of a financial crisis that has exposed a risky budgetary oversight by the Jubilee administration.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) has not paid its staff since December and a number of its research projects have been abandoned, crippling response to various crop and animal diseases.
Reports of Kalro officers embezzling money, being late in delivering farmers’ orders and murmurs of employment opportunities being skewed to members of one tribe have dogged the organisation that is listed as one of the champions of the government’s Vision 2030.
Kalro employees, estimated to be 3,500 countrywide, were last paid in the second week of January when their salaries for December 2016 were deposited.
“The one for December came on January 10. The one for January has never come till today and now we’re expecting the one for February. So, we’re not sure if they’ll come together or they’ll delay,” said an employee of the defunct Kari that was disbanded in 2014 to form Kalro.
Other agencies that were merged into Kalro were Tea Research Foundation, Coffee Research Foundation and Kenya Sugar Research Foundation. Kalro now has 16 institutes located in different areas in the country.
Given the uncertainty in salary payment and Kalro dragging its feet in the process of harmonising salaries for employees of the various disbanded institutes, workers are considering downing their tools.
Mr Zacharia Achacha, the secretary-general of the Union of National Research Institutes Staff of Kenya, said he had restrained himself from calling for a strike but he may have no option.
“If we don’t see anything else by Monday, then we will have no alternative. We have to allow them to call for an industrial action,” he told the Sunday Nation. “And you can see these are very obedient workers. Nobody else can afford to go to work for two months without pay.”
But Dr Andrew Tuimur, the Livestock Principal Secretary, told the Nation on Friday there was no need for the workers to strike as “the first Sh400 million” had been released to cater for their salaries.
“If they haven’t got it by now, it should be in by Monday,” he said. However, no employee had been paid by yesterday, according to Mr Achacha.
Dr Tuimur attributed the salary delay to a restructuring occasioned by an executive order from President Uhuru Kenyatta issued in late 2016.
The President’s order saw Kalro move from the agriculture docket to his livestock department and because of the time it was issued, Dr Tuimur said, adjusting budgetary allocations from one principal secretary to another was problematic. Mr Achacha said the argument does not hold water.
CHANGES IN MINISTRY
“Where is that previous allocation? Where did it go to?” he asked.
In a February 6 circular to staff, Kalro Director-General Eliud Kireger said there had been changes in the Agriculture ministry.
“This delay has been occasioned by the reorganisation and alignment of funding of parastatals in the Ministry of Agriculture and this has affected Kalro. There are consultations between the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant departments to conclude this matter,” Dr Kireger stated.
“You are, therefore, advised to be patient as Kalro management is pursuing this matter with the parent ministry,” he added.
But besides the salary problem, various research projects that were being undertaken by the agencies that were dissolved to form Kalro have been abandoned due to lack of funding, according to multiple sources.
“These things have died a natural death,” said Mr Achacha, questioning where the money that the various research bodies had in their accounts to finance research — mostly given by foreign donors — had gone to.
Even before the salaries problem arose, there were concerns that the research function that was the core function of the disbanded agencies had now been placed in the back burner due to a budgetary oversight.
Writing to the Nation’s “Ask Your Question” segment in September last year, one Maurice Mudeheri asked Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich why there was a lull in funding Kalro tasks. “Why has it taken the Treasury too long to allocate funds for research?” Mr Mudeheri asked.
Mr Rotich did not explain the reason behind the delay but said there was a change in this financial year.
“Beginning fiscal year 2016/17, funds for research have been provided for through the National Research Fund and it is from this fund that all government research institutions will obtain funding. Sh3 billion has been budgeted for this financial year,” responded Mr Rotich.
Kalro staff, who spoke with the Nation, revealed that the various institutes had large sums of money in their accounts for research which they did not know how it was used.
“As at now, it seems they’re only catering for the salaries. We don’t have any funding for now; we’re not doing any research at the moment,” said one researcher.
But Dr Tuimur said research projects at Kalro were going on as usual and refuted claims that some donors had pulled out due to lack of confidence in the new research outfit.
Urging the various scientists under Kalro to continue writing proposals to donors for funding of various projects, the PS admitted that donor support “has gone down a bit”.
One pointer to probable financial impropriety at Kalro is contained in Auditor-General Edward Ouko’s report about the national government’s financial status in the 2014/15 year.
Mr Ouko questioned how Kalro spent Sh30 million it had been allocated to develop traditional crops that would be distributed to various arid and semi-arid areas.
Besides the auditor’s queries, Kalro is also at the centre of a court case in Nakuru. In November 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a directive to hive off 1,500 acres of Kalro land and give it to the Isahakia community.
Mr Achacha said the former agencies were ill-prepared for the major fusion and blamed poor leadership for Kalro’s problems.
But Dr Tuimur said it was normal to have turbulence in an organisation after merger. “Whenever you merge something, issues are bound to arise,” he said.