Going Down The Memory Lane: The History of Maize Scandals in Kenya

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By Amina Faki

The subsidized maize scandal ghost is back to haunt Kenya yet again, with the truth of whatever conspired being hidden from the public.

The subsidized maize scandal first became public in 2009, over the sale of imported maize in late 2008 when the ban on importation of maize was lifted by the then government to allow capable businessmen to import maize to supplement the local produce. The then agriculture minister William Ruto was accused of illegally selling maize by the then Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale (Public Accounts Committee Chairman), all the documents that were bearing the National Cereals and Produce seal that linked Mr. Ruto to the illegal sale of maize were accepted by Parliament’s deputy speaker.

Is it just by coincidence that the Deputy President is caught up in the subsidized maize scandal yet again? Or is it the truth meter confirming the doubts Kenyans had back in 2008/2009 maize scandal? Karma must be real.

Currently, the Jubilee government is facing criticism over the high costs of living. The government imported maize from Mexico to try and ease the situation, a move that has put the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration on the spot with claims that the speed at which the maize was delivered may suggest an artificial creation of maize shortage.

National Super Alliance (NASA) leaders had questioned how a 30,000 metric tons consignment of maize from Mexico had arrived just in two days after the parliament passed a supplementary budget to allow duty-free importation of maize.

According to a KTN news reporter’s research, a cargo ship takes approximately 35 days to sail from Mexico to Kenya in a bad weather and approximately 33 days when the sea is still. But apparently, the subsidized maize arrived in the country in three days’ time.  is the government playing mind tricks with Kenyans?

Following the accusations that the maize shortage in the country was artificially created, Deputy President William Ruto defended the speed at which the government imported maize from Mexico. He said that the government had to move with speed to address the current maize shortage. He added that the importation will not affect local farmers.

According to CMA Chairman Nick Hutchinson in an interview, Kenya consumes about 288,000 tons of corn per month of which 135,000 is packaged and sold by the millers. The challenge is that where does the rest go to?

It hasn’t been made clear who is involved in the importation of the maize; those who are apparently involved are throwing tantrums against each other.

In January the agricultural minister announced the intention of the government to bring in maize from Mexico. In May a week ago the government through the cabinet secretary announced the arrival of the consignment of maize, on hand to receive it was the cabinet secretary for agriculture, Willy Bett. He said that Kenya was expecting more grain from South Africa and Mexico, more from Zambia through the road and some more from Ethiopia.

According to Mr. Bett the measure announced by the Agriculture Ministry including importing 450,000 metric tons of corn by the end of July and providing the grain to millers at more than half the price currently available in the market. To quote his words “the government did a responsible thing to do, not a political move.

How is it possible that both the deputy president and the agriculture cabinet secretary work for the same government but are giving the public contradicting information?

In an interview on Citizen TV, Deputy President William Ruto denied involvement in the importation of maize from Mexico. He said that the government is not whatsoever involved in the importation; private persons are in the business of selling maize which he doesn’t. He added that the information that he knows and is in the public domain is that the maize came from Mexico.

The Mexican government denied any knowledge of the deal, stating broadly it has created a framework for Kenya to trade with Mexico. The Mexican embassy in Nairobi said it could not confirm the transaction, arguing it was undertaken by private companies.

Details also emerged showing that three milling firms — Kitui Flour Mills and Pembe Flour Mills (with 10,000 tons each) and Hydrey (P) Limited (9,900) — were the importers of the consignment, which arrived at the port of Mombasa.

Transport Principal Secretary Paul Mwangi confirmed that the maize, which was received, was shipped from Durban, South Africa, aboard the vessel

In Kenya, approximately six out of every ten farming households are net buyers while in contrast, two percent of farmers control more than 50 percent of the maize sales. Was the subsidized maize importation a strategy to benefit only the chosen few?

The government has been instigated through KRA which had announced that to make maize meal affordable the imports would be made duty free. This was a move to benefit a few; the timeline could not be explained.

The most pressing question is how a supplementary budget was crafted to cushion Kenyans yet someone already new maize was on the way?

Kenyan have chosen not to remain ignorant and are on the quest of finding out who is involved in the importation of maize which is said to be originally from Mexico but shipped in South Africa is it just a failed political strategy?

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