Ruto saved by the vote

February 18, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 18 – Agriculture Minister William Ruto has survived a vote of no confidence in Parliament brought by Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale, over his handling of the maize scandal.

The vote was put to division after more than 20 MPs objected to the vote taken through acclamation.

“Honourable members the results of the division are Ayes 22, Nays 119 and abstentions 4. The Nays have it,” announced Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim.

It was mild blow for Mr Khalwale who had moved the no-confidence motion, saying it had been prompted by the Minister’s conduct of ‘allegedly mishandling’ the purchase, storage, sale and distribution of maize at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).

The MP accused that the mismanagement had led to a scarcity of maize meal and the current high cost of the precious commodity.

Mr Khalwale said the maize issue had led to an unprecedented rise in food prices and untold suffering – where about ten million Kenyans are facing hunger – in what he described as a national disaster.

“This is a vote against corruption and the events in this House today (Wednesday) have shown that corruption is hard to fight,” said the MP.

“MPs should not think there is a war between the minister and myself. This is a vote between the welfare of the Agriculture Minister and the welfare of the starving.”

Seconding the motion, Kimilili MP Dr Esseli Simiyu said there is evidence that Mr Ruto had mishandled the purchase and distribution of maize from the NCPB.

He added that Parliament needed to re-assess its handling of the issue.

“It has been very strange indeed that we as leaders of the country have chosen to actually run roughshod against the hunger of our voters. The way this motion has been handled in this house is very sad indeed. If we are to handle the welfare of the Kenyans that voted us into this House in that manner, then I fear we might not be seeing justice.”

Ministers who contributed to the motion expressed different views, with Justice Minister Martha Karua and Water Assistant Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri supporting it.

“When a query is raised we as ministers must not take it as a challenge, especially when we have nothing to hide,” Ms Karua observed.

“Where do you expect Kenyans to get justice when their representatives, Mr Speaker, are accused of having being bribed to vote down a motion,” said Mr Kiunjuri.

Trade Assistant Minister Omingo Magara was however opposed to the censure motion, terming it as malicious and put the blame squarely on the institutional and policy setbacks in NCPB’s operations.

Mr Ruto defended that he never misled the House on the stocks available in the Strategic Grain Reserve.

“I am prepared to take political responsibility when I’m called upon to. I have discharged my duties in the best way possible Mr Speaker. If there was any reason for me to resign, I would not spend one day or one minute waiting, I would do that honourably.”

The Agriculture Minister also clarified that no imported maize was sold to the millers.

“All the maize was bought between January and October from farmers at Sh1,300 and sold at Sh1,700 to millers, and at no one time did NCPB sell at a loss,” he said.

“94 percent was bought by big millers, 5 percent was bought by small millers with 0.8 percent going to schools and NGOs, while the rest was bought by individual Kenyans who took one or two bags.”

Mr Ruto explained that he had instructed the KACC to investigate any irregularity in the operations at NCPB.

“A lot has been said about the loss of Sh850 million but this loss is not reported anywhere. It appeared in the media; where it is alleged that 480,000 bags of maize were irregularly exported to southern Sudan.”

The sideshows

During the motion Kamukunji MP Simon Mbugua and Bumula MP Bifwoli Wakoli differed sharply and engaged in a bitter exchange of words.

Mr Bifwoli had to catch the Speaker’s attention, saying; “There is a Member of Parliament who says he will beat me up.” His statement sent waves of laughter through the House which had been very tense owing to the hard-fought motion.

Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi also took the chance to oppose the motion as if to send a warning to MPs who have been planning to censure him in relation to the oil scandal involving Triton Petroleum Limited.

He described the censure motions as ‘political lynching’ and pointed fingers at some legislators whom he said were inventing ways of sacking their colleagues.

“This motion is such a gross abuse of the House, it is an evil scheme of sending home Ministers.”

Mr Kiraitu also downplayed his mention in the Anglo-leasing scandal, saying that to date he carries the cross and yet he had not been found guilty.


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