Agriculture minister William Ruto on Wednesday said he would not resign over the maize scandal, exposed in an audit made public on Tuesday. And Prime Minister Raila Odinga said he had not read the report but has called a meeting of editors on Thursday morning at which he is expected to make public his position.
Two officials in his ministry, permanent secretary Mohamed Isahakia and principal secretary/chief of staff Caroli Omondi, have been named in the audit report and recommended for investigation.
Mr Ruto told the Nation on Wednesday: “The sale and distribution of cereals in the strategic grain reserve is not a function of the Ministry of Agriculture. If you are looking for someone to take responsibility over the matter, we shall not. I shall only take responsibility if everyone else take theirs.”
This is the second corruption scandal to hit the government after the revelations of fraud involving the free primary education programme. In that scandal the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission has recommended to the Attorney General the prosecution of eight top officials over the loss of Sh34 million. A total of Sh103 million was lost, but there are fears it could be more, and donors have withdrawn more than Sh1 billion in aid as a result.
Mr Odinga’s spokesman Dennis Onyango issued a statement saying: “He (PM) assures the public that he will very soon make his position known once he familiarises himself with the contents and recommendations of the report.” Mr Odinga has twice in the past week asked Education minister Sam Ongeri and permanent secretary Karega Mutahi to resign over the fraud by officials in their ministry.
Agriculture permanent secretary Romano Kiome is also named in the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit report, as is Mr Ruto, who is reported to have used his personal assistant to write a letter asking that an individual be allocated 1,000 bags by the National Cereals and Produce Board. Mr Ruto has said that the person was disabled and did not get any maize. “I don’t see the crime in that...I have written several other letters to assist needy Kenyans,” he said, admitting he wrote the letter.
Mr Ruto appeared to shift responsibility to the Ministry of Special Programmes, saying his ministry was not in charge of “selling and distribution of cereals”, not even that held for commercial purposes by NCPB. He did not mention the ministry, headed by Dr Naomi Shaban, by name, but referred journalists to Presidential Circular No 1, if they wanted to know the ministry he was talking about.
The PWC report paints a picture of massive corruption where well-heeled people bought maize from government stores cheaply and sold it to millers at huge profits, even as millions of Kenyans faced starvation. “The final report ... was delivered to the Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Monday,” Mr Odinga’s spokesman said. “Only yesterday did he begin going through the 366-page document.”
Dr Isahakia is accused of influencing the allocation of 10,000 bags of maize to Interglobal, where he is a co-director while Mr Omondi is said to have broken procurement rules when he initiated a contract with a company called Afgri. Also accused are Special Programmes PS Ali Mohamed and NCPB boss Gideon Misoi.
Questioned further, Mr Ruto said: “Put the question to the ministry responsible for the strategic grain reserve, which is certainly not us.” It is the second time Mr Ruto has come into focus over the maize scandal. He survived a no-confidence motion on the same issue last year.
The Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR), which is supposed to buy up to eight million bags of maize at the NCPB under agency agreement, is managed by the Ministry of Special Programmes. The SGR stock cushions the nation against severe food shortage as well as assist in stabilisation of local prices of grain. The NCPB is under the Agriculture docket. Mr Ruto said he had not seen the PWC audit report and would only take “appropriate action” after going through it carefully.
Konoin MP Julius Kones claimed some PNU leaders had leaked the report to counter the mounting pressure on Prof Ongeri and Prof Mutahi to resign. “It is like it wants to take an ODM versus PNU line. Some people seem to have interpreted the PM’s call on Ongeri as a bias against PNU ministers. Then some people have taken the advantage of the PWC report on the maize saga and revived it. We should not politicise the war against corruption,” he said.
“I don’t agree with the PM’s way of asking a minister in public to step aside, or asking the President to kick out officers who will be seen to be corrupt.
“We must establish standards, which will require documentary evidence before asking somebody to resign,” said the MP, adding that the issue was “buried” by Parliament and should not be revived.
However, ODM Chief Whip Jakoyo Midiwo asked Mr Ruto and the officials mentioned in the report to resign. He also asked the PM to remove officials in his office mentioned in the report to make way for investigations.
Mr Midiwo, the Gem MP, asked Mr Odinga to relieve officials in his office named in the report from their duties pending investigations, adding: “Mr Odinga ... never asked for a single bag of maize, the officials in his office must face the music individually.”
Central Organisation of Trade Union official Joseph Bolo said Mr Odinga was right in demanding the resignation of Prof Ongeri and if another report touches on corrupt people they should also go.
Reports by Bernard Namunane, Dave Opiyo and Kenneth Ogosia