Wednesday, February 11, 2009



February 11, 2009
Story by: TIMES TEAM

Agriculture Minister William Ruto came face to face with the magnitude of the maize scandal that threatens to blow away his political dreams when his ODM colleagues told him to carry his own cross.The Eldoret North MP got a rude shock on Monday night after ODM Cabinet Members unanimously gave the Prime Minister Raila Odinga the go-ahead to recommend his sacking if he refuses to resign.

Attempts by the Minister to defend himself during a meeting convened at the Prime Minister’s Treasury office by producing documents to show that a host of Members of Parliament and senior government officials made requests for allocation of maize to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), were dismissed by his colleagues.

And last evening, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua piled more pressure on the Minister calling him a baggage. she dismissed Ruto’s claims on Monday morning that she was fighting him to scuttle the minister’s 2012 presidential ambitions. Ruto had claimed in a radio interview that Karua had invited him to a friend’s house in Nairobi where she sought his support for 2012 presidential contest.

Karua noted that at no time had she discussed any partnership regarding the 2012 general election with Ruto, adding that she did not wish to be allied to a person "associated with graft and violence"."If I was to choose (a partner), I wouldn’t choose that person (Ruto)," said Karua adding that the minister should answer questions concerning the escalation of prices of maize flour despite Government subsidy.

She added, "I don’t wish to carry such baggage now or in the future."At the Treasury meeting, Lands Minister James Orengo and Finance Assistant Minister Oburu Odinga are reported to have repudiated the documents, adding a new twist of uncertainty that has widened the victims of the infamous maize scandal.

The two are said to have insisted that public officers who wrote the letters are guilty of criminal offence under the Economic Crimes Act and Public Officer Ethics Act, which both outlaw the use of public office for personal gain.Orengo is reported to have maintained that all the individuals mentioned by Ruto contravened both the Public Officer Ethics Act and the Economic Crimes Act and action should be taken against them.

The meeting of ODM ministers and assistant ministers concluded that the party must not condone corruption by any member, reiterating the party’s ‘No Corruption’ slogan at the December 2007 elections.At least three Cabinet Ministers and an assistant minister speaking on condition of anonymity revealed that Ruto was put to his defence by colleagues as Raila, who chaired the session, watched.

A confident looking Ruto had arrived at the Treasury meeting in the company of Raila, after arriving in the same chopper from the mass burial of the Molo fire tragedy in Nakuru, which the PM had to leave midstream for a donor consultative meeting in Nairobi. At the KICC, Raila kept donors waiting for half an hour as he held a consultative meeting with Ruto. Their entry into the hall together, evidently for the cameras, did not reveal the intense negotiations the two leaders had since mid morning.

At the ODM Cabinet meeting, the anti-Ruto chorus that gathered steam over the weekend reached a crescendo as the minister’s colleagues spoke of "disgrace" and "bad image" to his face. But this was after Ruto was given the chance to state his case, which he did by producing the documents that implicates a number of senior government officials.

Among the vocal ODM ministers at the meeting are reported to have included Orengo, William Ntimama, Oburu and Najib Balala.And in her scathing attacks on Ruto yesterday, Karua insisted that the Agriculture minister should step aside to pave way for investigations as has become tradition. She said that since the designation of the coalition Government, the standards on the subject of governance and integrity had been lowered.

Ruto is reported to have said that Karua and the ilk were keen on ensuring that they scuttle his possible candidature for the 2012 presidential race as well as ensuring he did not hold any public office.The minister is further reported to have said that Karua should answer questions on last year’s bungled general election since the then Electoral Commission of Kenya was within her domain. But Karua noted that ECK is independent and could not take any instructions from the Justice ministry. She said the role of her office only touched on formulation and ensuring policy was adhered to.

Speaking at her offices last evening, the Justice minister further called for a thorough probe on the maize scam saying the Government should consider enlisting the services of private investigators. She said if investigators do well, the real face of the maize scam will come to light. She further expressed concern that if not handled well, the same problem will be replicated in fertilizers which will be subsidised by the Government.