Controversy sharpens over maize scandal

January 13, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 13 – Conflict surrounding claims of illegal trading in maize was unrelenting on Tuesday as the government launched a probe into the allegations and leaders pointed accusing fingers at each other.

The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) and other Government agencies were on Tuesday directed to investigate allegations surrounding the illegal trading, even as leaders indicted each other for the hunger that is slowly spreading in the nation.

According to a statement posted on the Office of Public Communications’ Website, Dr Alfred Mutua said that the Kibaki administration was taking the allegations of unlawful trade very seriously and would take decisive action.

“The government is taking very seriously the allegations of illegal maize trading that has been reported by the media, the KACC and other Government agencies have been asked to establish the truth of these allegations,” he said.

The spokesman assured that the findings would be made public and appropriate action taken.

There have been reports that a huge chunk of maize at the government’s strategic reserves have been allocated to briefcase millers.

Industry sources said that some of the maize, which was meant to cushion Kenyans against rising flour prices and a looming famine, may be on its way to Southern Sudan, where it was being sold at Sh6,000 for a 90-kg bag.

On Monday, six Members of Parliament claimed that the son of a senior Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader was involved in the scandal surrounding the importation of maize.

A member of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Lands and Natural Resources Kambi Kazungu said that they were not sure if the maize thought to have been imported at the cost of Sh3,400 per bag had actually been delivered.

At a press conference, the MPs further blamed the Prime Minister for the ‘artificial shortage’ of maize in the country, saying that his office ordered the cancellation of a tender for a second grain handling facility.

But on Tuesday, ODM legislators criticised their colleagues for insinuating that the Premier was responsible for the current food shortage.

Led by Gem’s Jakoyo Midiwo, the MPs said the allegations were meant to divert the country’s attention from the ongoing debate over the constitutionality of the office of the Head of the Civil Service, currently held by Ambassador Francis Muthaura.

The legislators said the move to kill the debate would be futile.

The Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua meanwhile was adamant on Tuesday that those involved in precipitating the maize shortage be apprehended.

She challenged the law enforcement organs to step-up their efforts in the fight against graft adding that the current administration had suffered setbacks in streamlining the governance sector.

Karua said: “We have not abandoned the fight. Issues of governance have to be attended to with urgency this year otherwise we will set our nation backwards and you can see we have major issues of governance in the sectors of Agriculture and Energy, and we do not know where else this will come up.”

“We really must pull up our socks; signs of decay are showing.”

Karua was speaking after meeting Narc-K Nairobi Branch representatives, where Chairman Lee Muchiri accused KACC of failing prevent fresh corruption scandals.

He said that the commission’s failure to prosecute corruption suspects had encouraged new scandals.

“Both KACC and (its chairman Justice Aaron) Ringera are meaningless to Kenyans, we have lost faith in it. Its like they are breeding corruption; if that was not the case why are we seeing fresh scandals rising, look at the oil sector, people are selling maize to Southern Sudan while Kenyans are dying (of hunger) and they want us to believe they don’t know who is behind it,” Muchiri accused.

Transparency International (TI) on its part lashed out at the coalition government on Tuesday in the wake of the numerous mega scandals and warned it may crumble if no remedial measures are taken.

TI’s Executive Director Job Ogonda said the counter-accusations amongst Cabinet Ministers were a clear indication that both sections of the coalition had abdicated their leadership responsibilities in favour of self interests.

“Current developments in the government suggest that the grand coalition is yet to implement what they promised during the elections,” Mr Ogonda said at a press conference.

TI also dismissed investigations into the scandal as a mere public relations gimmick ‘because findings of the investigations may not see the light of day.’

The country has been gripped by a shortage of maize, which has been attributed to unscrupulous traders who had forced prices to double.

Last week, the government said it would declare a national food emergency saying ten million people were at risk of starvation.

Already, many families are reported to be starving and the situation is expected to worsen, especially for the internally displaced persons, after the government announced that it would withdraw its relief programme in February.

At their news conference on Monday, the MPs said the food crisis in the country should be prioritised when Parliament resumed its sittings on January 20.


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