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Maize: Kibaki reads riot act

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 16 – President Mwai Kibaki has vowed that corrupt government officials involved in the maize scandal will face court action, as he launched a Sh37 billion international emergency appeal for food relief.

Speaking at the KICC, the President said the ‘rogue’ officials involved in the maize scam that is thought to have precipitated the food crisis, would face justice and asked Kenyans not to shy away from naming those involved.

"There is no country that hasn’t got some rogues. So don’t keep any rogue whom you know in the Kenya government; don’t keep it to yourself as a secret. No! There is no secret. Kenyans know a lot of these rogues and in fact, they are helping me quite a lot."

While launching the appeal for aid to help more than 10 million Kenyans faced with starvation, the Head of State said that the government had managed to raise about Sh5.2 billion and pleaded with donors and all well wishers to contribute the staggering remainder.

"It’s broken down into the following components. We’ll require Sh30.2 billion for emergency food requirements, Sh3.8 billion for education sector; Sh1.3 billion for water, health and nutrition programmes. We shall also need Sh2.6 billion to be used in agricultural and livestock interventions."

He went on to say that the state had set aside Sh3 billion for the procurement of additional relief food supplies and Sh1 billion for related non-food emergency interventions.

The president noted that the most affected areas that require emergency support are the marginal agricultural districts of lower Eastern (Ukambani), Coast, and Central provinces while adding that other areas that are adversely affected include the pastoral and agro-pastoral areas of Rift Valley, Eastern, and North Eastern provinces.

Several envoys present at the launch, and pledged their support to the Kenya government.  They included diplomats from the UK, US, China, Japan, and EU member states as well as representatives from numerous aid agencies.

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But while offering their assistance, Britain and the US asked the government to spell out policy issues and tackle corruption, which has been blamed for the current situation that the country has found itself in.

"It would be extremely helpful to have more clarity and more information about the situation and about some of the government policies.  We are concerned that they may be contributing to some of the shortages and to some of the opportunities and incentives for corrupt dealings by middlemen and cartels," said UK High Commissioner Rob Macaire.

His US counterpart Michael Ranneberger said: "It’s important for the government of Kenya to take steps to modify policies that we believe are inadvertently in fact contributing to food shortages. Price controls, requiring farmers to sell directly to the government, and limiting millers to buying maize only from the government are measures that we think have indirectly contributed to shortages."

However, the Special Programmes Minister Naomi defended the government amid media reports of high-level corruption in maize distribution and importation.

"I wanted to put the record straight. After the verification exercise, it was discovered that some of those millers are not working and are not operational. So let us work as Kenyans, not as we the Kenyans and us the media. Let us put a correct message out there," she pleaded with journalists.

The meteorological department has said Central and Coast provinces are likely to be worst affected by the current dry spell.

The intervention sought by President Kibaki came on the same day MPs from Ukambani said they were seeking an audience with him to discuss ways of mitigating famine in their constituencies.

Mutito MP Kiema Kilonzo said that if they were granted an appointment they would suggest measures to address the drought situation in Ukambani which has persisted for years.

"Every district in Ukambani will set aside 10,000 acres, where we would ask the government provide money for irrigation because we believe the major challenge for the people of Ukambani is water," he suggested.

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Addressing a news conference after a meeting attended by Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka at Parliament buildings 11 MPs said they would each donate Sh250,000 to assist those affected by famine in their constituencies.

"We will have a fund-raising in Nairobi and Mombasa to ask friends and well-wishers to contribute funds towards this kitty. We want to request all the professionals from our region to join hands in this trying time," he said.

The United Nations has in the meantime outlined its proposed disaster preparedness interventions in light of the current famine in the country.

It has suggested that the process be carried out in phases, the first being an emergency phase and the second a recovery one.

"We will have significant imports of cereals and very likely significant imports of fertiliser. All these imports will have to go through the port of Mombasa," said the World Food Programme Country Director Burkard Oberle.

He however singled out the clearance processes and storage capacity at the port as some of the challenges they have faced in the past.

The UN is also carrying out a countrywide survey on the effects of the drought situation.

"It involves UN agencies, technical agencies of the government, government ministries. This time a lot of footwork has already been done at the districts, who have shared their information that then needs to verified, qualified and put together in a credible assessment and action plan."

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