The chilling revelations laid bare by Agriculture Principal Secretary Prof Hamadi Boga when he appeared before the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Of 176,265, ninety-kilogram bags of maize worth Sh342.48 million that the Ministry of Health had ascertained to contain high levels of aflatoxin and therefore unfit for human consumption, 51,640 were released to Kenyans on May 3, 2019, Prof Boga told PAC, a watchdog committee of the House.
The National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) charged Sh780 per 90kg bag of the condemned maize following the approval of the Strategic Food Reserve (SFR), he said.
“A resampling of the maize initially condemned recommended that some of the maize be released for human consumption and the others for animal use,” Prof Boga said.
The initial price was Sh1,778 per 90 kg bag but was reduced to Sh780, resulting in a loss to the government of Sh560.60 million, which excludes storage and fumigation charges.
The PS had appeared before the watchdog committee, chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, to respond to issues raised by Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu in the accounts of the Ministry of Agriculture for the 2018/19 financial year.
The audit report that PAC is considering reveals that the condemned bags were part of the 6 million bags that cost Sh10.46 billion.
The maize was meant to replenish food reserves and cushion Kenyans from hunger.
Although Prof Boga claimed that the resampling was undertaken jointly by the Ministry of Health and the Kenya Bureau of Standards, he did not provide any evidence to the committee in the form of a report to prove his claims.
Aflatoxin is a poisonous compound produced by certain moulds found in food and can cause liver damage and cancer.
Aflatoxin in maize and other cereals is caused by poor storage – storing grains that have not dried well to recommended standards or storing them in moist areas.
The recommended moisture content for dry maize is 13 percent.
The level of discomfort caused by Prof Boga’s revelations among PAC members was evident in their comments.
While some recoiled in their seats, Mr Wandayi and Gatanga MP Joseph Ngugi wore faces full of doubt.
Mr Wandayi inquired from the PS whether he knew what he was telling the committee.
“This maize was found to be unfit for human consumption after it was ascertained to contain high levels of aflatoxin. Are you saying it was tested a second time and found to be fit for human consumption and released to the public?” he asked.
Prof Boga tried to assuage Mr Wandayi’s misgivings, saying the second test ascertained its suitability, but he could not back up his claims.
“The auditors are quoting the report of the Ministry of Health. I would still go with the report of the Ministry of Health,” Mr Wandayi said.
Mr Ngugi blamed the government for releasing to the public maize whose quality is doubtful, noting that it is not good economics.
“It is not acceptable to be buying food at high prices, store it poorly then release it to the public for human consumption or for animal feed despite the glaring health concerns. What a wastage of public resources,” he said.
Part of the condemned maize included stocks held in Kisumu (35,905 bags) and Moi’s Bridge (525,818 bags) silos, all valued at Sh998.74 million.
The grain was found to have been damaged by heat caused by storage in silos for more than two years.
The audit report notes that while records as of June 30, 2019 indicated the Nakuru depot held 387 bags of imported maize valued at Sh626,940, physical verification disclosed that no such stock existed
This, the Auditor-General said, means the stock of imported maize could not be accounted for.
Sourced from Nation