Pressure continued to mount on Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri to resign Wednesday after it emerged that Sh1.8 billion had allegedly been withdrawn from the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund as an advance payment for maize importation.
Six MPs claimed the money was secretly and irregularly withdrawn by the ministry from the fund’s account at the Central Bank of Kenya and paid to a company trading as Commodity House, without the board’s approval.
MPs Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany), Silas Tiren (Moiben), Caleb Amisi (Saboti), Robert Pukose (Endebes), Marwa Maisuri (Kuria East) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills) made the allegations, insisting the CS should quit.
They charged that Mr Kiunjuri could no longer continue to hold office in the midst of the fresh allegations.
The lawmakers also called on the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to launch investigations into the Sh1.8 billion claim.
“The Director of Criminal Investigations and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission should immediately launch investigations into the payments. Why such payments, which in our opinion were designed to defraud the taxpayers and hurt farmers, were made without the knowledge of SFRTF board,” said Mr Kutuny.
Armed with a letter signed by the chairman of the Strategic Food Reserve Board Noah Wekesa, the MPs said the Sh1.8 billion was part of the Sh12 billion meant to clear debts owed to maize farmers and purchase of the current harvest.
In the letter addressed to Agriculture PS Hamadi Boga, Dr Wekesa wanted to know why the ministry withdrew Sh1.8 billion without the board’s approval. “The purpose of this letter is to seek your indulgence as to why you made such a huge withdrawal to the tune of Sh1.8 billion without the authorisation of the oversight board as required by law,” said Dr Wekesa.
However, appearing before the National Assembly Committee on Agriculture on Wednesday, Mr Kiunjuri explained that the Sh1.8 billion was used to clear some of the pending bills to Commodity House.
Mr Kiunjuri said the ministry was only adhering to the presidential directive that all bills be cleared within a month.
He, however, told the committee, chaired by Mr Adan Haji, that the question on the legality of the withdrawal could only be answered by the PS, who was out of the country.
Mr Kiunjuri said the ministry sought clearance from the Treasury. “The only thing I am not aware of is whether the accounting officer interacted with SFRTF,” Mr Kiunjuri said.
The CS said the ministry had pending bills dating back to 2017 to various entities such as Commodity House (Sh3.6 billion), Millers (Sh2.6 billion), Dolphin (Sh61 million) and ETG (Sh400 million).
The CS said the government had shelved a plan to import 12 million bags of maize from Mexico and will instead get the commodity from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa region.
“As I speak, there is still a deficit of maize and I am surprised that nobody is talking on behalf of the mwananchi. It is my responsibility to speak when prices of unga hit Sh110,” Mr Kiunjuri said, responding to a charge that his core mandate ought to have been production rather than consumption.
He explained that maize importation was first discussed in April due to the prevailing weather conditions, terming it normal for the country to import as it has been doing so every year.
However, the MPs maintained the CS should leave, insisting he had failed to protect farmers’ interests.