Nobody knows their face. They don’t seem familiar even to prominent maize farmers in Kenya.But three family members – Celestine Chepchirchir, Caroline Chepchumba and Rodney Kimutai – appear to have supplied National Cereal and Produce Board with maize worth Sh637 million after selling 200,000 bags of 50kg maize to the NCPB depots in Eldoret and Kisumu.
They have already been paid Sh431 milllion.
Some other eight traders are said to have walked away with most of the money set aside to buy maize from farmers in what is emerging as Kenya’s nastiest maize scandal.
Vice President William Ruto has asked the Agriculture Ministry to explain to Kenyans not just how much money had been lost but how the money meant for farmers ended up in the hands of brokers and businessmen. “How can one supply more than 200,000 bags to the National Cereals and Produce Board yet he or she has no land? Such a question needs an honest answer,” Ruto said.
Jesica Mbalu, the Parliamentary Committee chair investigating the issue said there were indications that rules were flouted by those involved in the acquisition, keeping and sale of maize in NCPB stores.
“There is a clear problem, we have asked for documentations for the purchase and sale of maize but no one seems to have a clear answer. Worse still, we are told that some of the cereals were destroyed, no one seems to verify where and when this happened,” said Mbalu.
“The matter pointed to fraud and without thorough investigations, there is no telling whether all the maize to be paid for was supplied or some payments were for fictitious deliveries,” she said.
The mastermind of the scam is a Mrs Victoria Rotich, the mother of Chepchirchir, Chepchumba and Kimutai, who has admitted to using her children’s names to sell the maize she had ostensibly bought from farmers tired of waiting for NCPB payments:
“I started maize business in 1982, but even then I was farming. I have built our profiles for three decades, and I’m open for any questions on the current matter because I have nothing to hide,” said Mrs Rotich.
Last week, NCPB Managing Director Newton Terer resigned, as Kiunjuri cracked the whip. Five top managers were suspended and 59 other officials put under investigation in the purge.
An internal report indicates that Stephen Maiyo was paid Sh148 million for supplying 109,506 bags of maize. He claims a balance of Sh43 million. At Kisumu depot, Caroline Chepchumba was supposed to receive Sh216 million for supplying 121,617 bags weighing 50kgs. NCPB has paid her Sh96.2 million.
Principal Secretary for Crop Development Richard Lesiyampe has already tabled the report before the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee. But Lesiyampe told the committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi that the government did not lose any money.
“I can confirm that no money was lost and in fact we received all the maize. Currently, we have about 3.8 million bags of maize at NCPB depots. I cannot confirm connections and networks of these traders but we are digging into it,” Lesiyampe said.
Kiunjuri said Kenyan farmers will not suffer at the expense of unscrupulous traders.
“Although no money was lost, as a country we have lost an opportunity. The government intention to strengthen the farmer through fertiliser subsidies and good buying prices, is not fulfilled,” Kiunjuri said. He said foreign farmers will not benefit.
The CS said NCPB bosses were negligent because the number of bags supplied was inordinately large in some cases. “Even that manager receiving maize, why didn’t they ask themselves, ‘Where can you grow much maize?'” With over 200,000 bags, you need to cultivate more than 8,500 acres.”
Normally, when farmers deliver maize they must present a letter signed by the chief, ward administrator, an officer from the Agriculture ministry and a religious leader.
The depot manager tests if the maize is dry has required moisture content of 13.5 per cent. Only then does the farmer get a receipt. He awaits money in his bank in two weeks.
This year, however, farmers who delivered maize as early as January are yet to be paid. They have protested, while the traders who bought cheap maize from Uganda and sold have already received 80 per cent payment.
Since October last year, the government has bought Sh11.4 billion maize. Of this, Sh7.8 billion has been cleared. Last week the government released another Sh1 billion to pay 3,200 farmers and clear part of the Sh2.6 billion owed.
This prompted auditing of maize buying reports at the board. Then came house cleaning.