, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 4 – Agriculture Minister William Ruto was on Wednesday put on the spot in Parliament over a maize scandal surrounding the alleged sale of the commodity to middlemen and bogus millers.
Ikolomani MP Dr Bonny Khalwale, who threw the first punch, alleged that Mr Ruto sacked junior employees at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) leaving out the top management who were equally culpable in a multi million shilling scandal. The fiasco is blamed for the skyrocketing of maize prices, the staple food ingredient, at a time of famine in the country.
Dr Khalwale accused Mr Ruto of being directly involved in the scandal through a company that is associated with him. “Can this minister clear the air that he is not involved in this clever syndicate with a multiplicity of other players,” Mr. Khalwale asked.
He was referring to an insurance company which was given a tender to import gunny bags for NCPB.
The Minister replied that he was only an ordinary shareholder in the company and therefore did not have to answer on any misgovernment. “AMACO is a private enterprise. I have shares. They (AMACO) should be able to carry their own cross,” Mr Ruto told a hushed house.
Dr Khalwale tabled several documents which allegedly contained phony milling companies and their owners including some which he claimed belonged to sitting MPs.
However the documents could not be referred as their authenticity was yet to be verified by the Speaker who will then decide whether the contents can be debated.
Dr Khalwale’s allegations led to heated exchange even as he claimed the Minister was aware that maize had been sold to Southern Sudan in illegal exports.
In his response, Mr Ruto said he had only received a letter from Southern Sudan requesting for the commodity but he declined to approve export. “I gazetted a ban on maize exports from all ports. This showed my commitment to ensure no maize shall leave the country when Kenyans are suffering," defended Mr Ruto.
He also said an impression had been created that buying maize from NCPB was illegal.
“It is not a crime for Kenyans to buy maize from NCPB. Companies can buy maize even individuals can buy maize. There is no process of deciding who to sell to or not. The crime occurs when maize is not paid for,” the Agriculture Minister said.
Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim said the maize scandal which already was drawing a lot of concerns from members would be discussed Thursday.
Meanwhile, the House resumed debate on The Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill which seeks to entrench a Special Tribunal in the Constitution.
A heated debate over the Bill dominated Parliament’s Wednesday afternoon proceedings.
Members remained deeply divided on the issue with some legislators saying Kenya was capable enough to try its own people while others said a local panel was susceptible to undue influence.
“For anyone to suggest that matters which we can handle in this country, should be handled in foreign countries, that person should have never have been born,” Environment Minister John Michuki said as he supported the creation of a local Special Tribunal.
Those opposed to the Bill said a local tribunal would be manipulated by those implicated in last year’s atrocities since most of them were powerful people
The legislators also said witnesses would fear of victimisation during local investigations.
Assistant Minister Dr Wilfred Machage also opposed the Bill saying a local tribunal was likely to create more divisions in the country, considering the deep hatred and mistrust that had led to the post election crisis in the first place.