The National Cereals and Produce Board is on the spot once again following reports that it destroyed Sh2 billion maize that had overstayed in its stores.
The 754,015 bags of obsolete stock was destroyed in 2015 after remaining in NCPB silos for more than seven years.
A chunk of the destroyed maize had been imported from Uganda to replenish the dwindling stocks when the weatherman warned of drought in 2011.
True to the forecast, East Africa faced a severe drought.
Some of the most affected regions included Kajiado, Turkana, Murang’a, upper and lower Eastern, Coast and the northern region.
Why the Agriculture Ministry and the board never released the maize to feed starving Kenyans before it was damaged remains a mystery.
Even Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe could not explain to MPs why the maize was not released when it was still in good condition.
Dr Lesiyampe appeared before the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee to respond to audit queries of the ministry for the 2014/15 and 2015/16 financial years.
Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro said the ministry and NCPB lack proper judgement.
“They ought to have come up with a policy to limit the period that maize stays in the silos,” Mr Nyoro told the Nation.
Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki and Dr Romano Kiome were Agriculture PSs during the period while Prof Gideon Misoi was the NCPB chief executive.
The law says if the holder of a public office directs or approves the use of funds illegally, the person is liable for the loss even if they leave office.
Dr Lesiyampe, however, said the current arrangement is to store the maize for not more than two years.
“The maize became discoloured. The good thing is that it was not exposed to Kenyans. It was sold to firms that make animal feeds,” Dr Lesiyampe said.
The PS added that a review of quality assurance reports for 2015/16 maintained by NCPB indicates that Celphos, the board’s preferred chemical, failed to kill weevils.
Though most depots requested for a change of the chemical, there is no alternative yet.
“No efforts appear to have been made to improve grain storage. Furthermore, no adjustments have been made in these financial statements to account for the obsolete stock,” Auditor-General Edward Ouko said in his report.
Meanwhile, maize valued at millions of shillings is going to waste in the North Rift after the government stopped buying the produce from farmers.
Many tonnes of maize have been attacked by pests and moulds due to poor storage.
“I harvested more than 3,000 bags of maize but sold only 1,000 to the board,” Mr Jackson Too from Moiben County said.
According to Dr Lesiyampe, the government stopped buying maize from farmers after it attained the capacity to replenish the Strategic Grains Reserve.
It set aside Sh7.1 billion to buy 2.4 million bags but exceeded the target when some individuals imported cheap maize and sold it to NCPB.
Farmers are demanding about Sh4 billion for delivering maize to the board.
All these comes after top NCPB officials were sent packing over illegal importation and supply of maize to the board by influential individuals.
Lawmakers from the North Rift have linked the scandal to the importation of more than 300,000 bags of maize from Mexico for the government subsidy programme.
According to MPs Silas Tiren (Moiben) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills), the fraudsters took advantage of their positions in government to import excess subsidised maize and sell it to the board at high prices.
“The ministry has a list of individuals and companies who imported maize from Mexico and Uganda and it should be made public. Farmers should not be taken in circles,” Mr Tiren said.
The MP added that his name could be in the list of 30 lawmakers and businesspeople being investigated “for political reasons”.
Mr Tiren said his stand on farmers’ woes has nothing to do with the 2022 elections.
Deputy President William Ruto admits that cartels have infiltrated the maize industry, making it difficult for the government to address the plight of farmers.
“It has become difficult for the government to tell the difference between middlemen and farmers when they take their maize to NCPB depots,” he said.
Mr Ruto added that the government has put in place measures to do away with middlemen.
“We will not use public money to pay brokers,” he said.
He added that the government has information on a businessman who is importing maize from Uganda and Tanzania.
Last week, farmers dismissed the suspension of eight officials and the resignation of the board CEO Newton Terer as a scheme to cover up corruption in the NCPB.
Some millers scaled down operations after the demand for sifted maize dropped.
Reported by David Mwere, Barnabas Bii and Wycliffe Kipsang