The long-running maize scandal could prove a sticking point for Deputy President William Ruto in his Rift Valley political backyard as he strategises to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022.
Farmers and a section of leaders from the North Rift on Saturday expressed open dissatisfaction with the way he has handled the thorny maize issue so far.
Maize and wheat farming are the main economic activities of many of his supporters in the region, but some of them feel that he has not done all within his powers to address their plight.
Farmers continue to complain of low prices for their produce and inordinate delayed payments for maize delivered to the National Cereals and Produce Board.
Addressing the issue, three North Rift Jubilee MPs — Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills), Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany) and Silas Tiren (Moiben) — on Saturday demanded that the DP be probed for the maize and fertiliser scandals that have rocked the country in the recent past.
“What we know is that these problems are because of the DP and his office,” Mr Keter, a long-time critic of Mr Ruto, alleged without adducing any evidence of the allegation.
Mr Kutuny pointed out that the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri had earlier indicated that there were powerful individuals linked to the maize scam, and on this basis the DP should be probed.
“We want the DP probed because we have heard that he has been calling NCPB officials instructing them on who should be paid,” the legislator claimed, but without giving any proof too.
The MPs were speaking during a farmers’ meeting at TAC Centre in Eldoret to chart the way forward on the challenges in the sector. The meeting was also attended by former MPs Jesse Mais (Eldoret South) and Luka Chepkitony (Keiyo North).
However, DP allies among them Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, faulted the farmers and rebel MPs from the region for politicising the maize issue.
“We should not blame the DP now and then about the maize issue when he has an obligation to protect all farmers,” said the senator. “It is the MPs from the maize zone who have let farmers down by not sponsoring motions in Parliament for more funds to be allocated for purchase of maize by the government.”
On Saturday evening, DP’s press Secretary Emmanuel Talam told the Sunday Nation that they were hoping the lawmakers would provide evidence to support their allegations.
“How do I comment on mere allegations that someone says another one stole? Let them give you the evidence then we can talk,” he said.
Last week, CS Kiunjuri said that 62 individuals who are suspected to have irregularly supplied maize to the NCPB and were paid millions of shillings, will be charged in court.
Mr Kutuny alleged that the Agriculture ministry has been infiltrated by some senior government officials whom he sensationally claimed have at least 500,000 acres of maize plantation in a foreign country in bid to flood the local market with their foreign produce.
Last week, the Strategic Food Trust Fund, which is chaired by former Cabinet Minister Noah Wekesa, announced Sh2,300 as the new price that the government would purchase a 90kg bag of maize this season, sparking protests from farmers in the region.
“The new price is a strategy by some few individuals in the government to discourage farmers from supplying their produce to the NCPB then create an artificial shortage leaving room for imports,” said Mr Kutuny.
Following the protests by farmers and leaders, the government backtracked and CS Kiunjuri promised to announce an enhanced buying price soon. The farmers are demanding to be paid Sh3,600 for a 90kg bag of maize.
The three MPs also questioned the motive of a section of leaders from the region advocating for farmers to diversify what they grow.
“You cannot be telling local farmers to plant avocado yet you don’t what to tell us what happened with the maize scam because you are part of problem,” said Mr Keter.
The DP has been advocating for farmers to sign contracts with the national silo arguing it will end the mess in sector.
“From the next planting season, our farmers have to sign a contract with the NCPB so that they agree on the number of bags of maize they will deliver at the harvest. We have to plan to avoid confusion in the agricultural sector,” said Mr Ruto while in Nandi County last month.
Mr Tiren, another perceived Jubilee rebel, said that the DP’s 2022 political ambitions should not override the welfare of farmers, and that those championing farmers’ interests should not be intimidated.
“Why should we talk about 2022 when our people are suffering due to unsettled dues for produce they delivered to NCPB?” said Mr Tiren, who attributed his removal as the chair of the parliamentary committee on Agriculture to Jubilee leaders who were not comfortable with him.
MP Keter blamed the maize scandals to their removal from various parliamentary committees early this year.
Mr Keter and Mr Tiren were evicted as chairpersons of the Labour and Agriculture parliamentary committees respectively for defying the Jubilee party’s preferred line-up, despite being overwhelmingly elected by members of their respective committees.
Mr Keter claimed that DP Ruto frustrated their efforts to take over the parliamentary committees that would have addressed the problems in the region.
“We have started a silent movement that will ensure that no leader from ward rep level to presidency will be supported in 2022 if they fail to bring to an end the current crisis in the agricultural sector,” he said.
Myoot Council of Elders acknowledged that they are disappointed with the woes facing the maize sector but urged leaders to embrace dialogue rather than issuing threats.
With the elections four years away Mr Ruto still has ample time to fix the maize issue, an issue which his boss President Uhuru Kenyatta seems to have taken to heart too.
By Daily Nation