The Ministry of Agriculture was yesterday unable to prove whether subsidised fertiliser said to have been procured in 2014 at a cost of Sh2.5 billion was received and sold to smallholder farmers as intended.
This came as Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe admitted that unscrupulous staff at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) sold sand and broken pieces of glass repackaged as fertiliser to unsuspecting farmers.
Appearing before the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, Dr Lesiyampe said the rogue individuals have since been charged in court.
But although he told the committee that the 260,905 metric tonnes of fertiliser was received and distributed to farmers in maize growing areas, he failed to provide documentation to prove his claim.
The documents were necessary for the work of the watchdog committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi. The team is investigating the queries raised by the Auditor-General Edward Ouko over the 2014/15 and 2015/16 financial year expenditures of the ministry.
The PS needed to prove to the committee that indeed the fertiliser was procured, received and distributed to farmers as approved by the Cabinet to cushion the growers from exploitative market prices.
The lack of this vital documentation now casts doubts on whether farmers benefited or whether the subsidy programme only ended up benefiting some individuals at the ministry and NCPB, who are feared they may have colluded to pocket billions of shillings meant to improve food production. “We cannot proceed in the absence of the documents. How do we establish if the smallholder farmers got the fertiliser? There is nothing to show for it!” Mr Wandayi said.
The ministry contracted NCPB to store and sell the fertiliser to smallholder farmers.
However, apart from an invoice and a schedule raised by NCPB, no verifiable documents were produced for the audit to confirm the actual quantity of fertiliser bought, the quantity sold to farmers and purchase and selling prices.
This comes hot on the heels of the Sh2 billion maize scandal at NCPB.
Dr Lesiyampe said failure by the ministry to provide the relevant documents to auditors for verification was wrong, even as he admitted they are bulky and in the custody of NCPB.
“The materials required by auditors are bulky and would not even fit in this room. It is unfortunate that they have not been produced because it is imperative that we explain this expenditure,” Dr Lesiyampe said.
However, the PS’s explanation was challenged by the committee members, with Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo reminding him that the query has been pending since 2014 when Ms Sicily Kariuki, the current Health Cabinet Secretary, served as PS in the Ministry of Agriculture.
“It is now four years down the line and the matter is yet to be addressed. How long does it take to provide the auditors with the documentation?” Dr Amollo asked.
In the first tender, the ministry paid Sh2.1 billion for the supply of 205,955 metric tonnes of the fertiliser.
The same year, the ministry awarded the contract for the supply of 54,950 metric tonnes to Performance Parts, which is associated with a Ms Teresa Kariuki, according to the PS.
Dr Lesiyampe did not provide justifiable reasons why the lowest evaluated bidder, Global Link East Africa, was not given the tender for allegedly declining to sign the contract that saw the government pay an extra Sh126.9 million.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri at a previous meeting with the Agriculture Committee of the National Assembly said one of the eight traders, who made huge deliveries, pocketed over Sh400 million for the over 200,000 of bags supplied to Eldoret and Kisumu depots.
The traders took advantage of the Sh3,200 premium price offered by the government per 90kg bag to cash in at the expense of farmers. According to Mr Kiunjuri, eight such traders pocketed Sh1.8 billion.
The scandal saw NCPB Managing Director Newton Terer resign, with eight senior regional managers in Bungoma, Eldoret, Moi’s Bridge, Kisumu and Nakuru among other affected areas being suspended. Mr Kiunjuri also noted that the matter was under investigation by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.