Koskei eye on Sh150B
Minister locks out staff, donors in fierce battle for Agriculture billions , By IAN RAMAS
Felix Kiptarus Koskei, the powerful Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries has
set off a sequence of events to seize the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA), a Sh150 billion-budget parastatal which, once established, will take-over the functions of 40 state corporations drawn from several ministries allied to the agricultural sector.
First, he used a legal notice to suspend a key piece of the legislation that provides for the Agricultural Sector Coordination Unit (ASCU), an inter-ministerial agency, to act as AFFA during the 2-3 year transition period. He then formed a task force to take over ASCU’s functions, even as he directed an audit into its operations. Next, he “dismissed” the ASCU coordinator Dr Mussolini Kithome in circumstances that evidently question the Minister’s fidelity to the rule of law.
ASCU, established in 2005, is charged with steering legal and administrative reforms in the agricultural sector, and – according to the Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority Act 2013 that came into force on January 17, 2014 – is legally mandated to act as AFFA through the 2-3 year transition period. “The secretariat of the unit known as the Agricultural Sector Coordinating Unit existing at the commencement of this Act, shall for a period of not less than two years but not more than three years from the date of the commencement of this Act, act as the secretariat of the Authority,” states paragraph 9 of the First Schedule, Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority Act 2013.
The Unit drafted the much-acclaimed Agricultural Sector Development Strategy (ASDS) 2010-20 blueprint launched by the then President Mwai Kibaki in July 2010, and the three pieces of law that now govern the sector – Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority Act 2013, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Act, and the Crops Act 2013.
Already, key donors are concerned about Koskei’s unilateral actions to snatch ASCU from the rest of sector ministries – that include land, agriculture, fisheries, livestock, environment and natural resources, industry, and commerce. They now demand that ASCU be relocated from Kilimo House, the Ministry headquarters, to a more neutral ground.
Accusations of nepotism and corruption swirl Koskei, the 50-year old graduate of strategic management who once worked at the defunct Kenya Posts and Telecommunication Corporation (KPTC), Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and the Kenya National Highways Authority, as procurement officer. A fortnight ago, ASCU’s top officials moved to block the minister from interfering with its functions. Dr Kithome alleges that the minister’s agents raided ASCU’s offices and seized key documents.
“It’s all about the control of billions of shillings made by, or allocated to, powerful parastatals. He has made it clear that he wants his people to run ASCU and consequently AFFA”, said a source at Office of the President concerned that some Cabinet ministers want to destabilize key parastatals so that they can have their own people run them.
Parallels are being drawn between the latest case with the situation at East African Portland Cement, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Geothermal Development Corporation, and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), where te government appears to defy the law in its rush to appoint cronies to head the key parastatals. “Koskei told us that he needed his own team to run AFA,” a source from ASCU told this writer.
In the corridors of Kilimo House, the headquarters of Agriculture Ministry, Mr Koskei’s run-in with ASCU is near legendary – though silent. It all started in January 2014, when AFFA Act came into effect. ASCU automatically became the AFFA’s interim secretariat, according to the law.
Curiously, six weeks later, Minister Koskei inexplicably appointed a 10-member taskforce, answerable only to him, to spearhead the implementation of the new legislation – a mandate the law gives to ASCU. This, he did without recognizing that ASCU is an inter-ministerial unit that cannot be answerable to a single Cabinet Secretary.
Thus, the task force was to take over the operations of ASCU. It was to recruit staff, set up offices and engage tasks hitherto assigned to ASCU. This left donors dismayed. “I remember seeing minutes of an inter-ministerial meeting that affirmed ASCU as the key implementing agency of the new agricultural body,” says a diplomat of a European nation that has consistently funded the sector. “When did this change? How and why?
Indeed, The Nairobi Law Monthly is in possession of minutes of an inter-ministerial meeting chaired by Minister Koskei, November 6, 2013 at the Hilton Hotel which was attended by, among others, principal secretaries Sicily Kariuki (Agriculture), Khadijah Kassachoon (Livestock), Micheni Ntiba (Fisheries), Wilson Songa (Industrialisation and Enterprise Development). Ministers Adan Mohamed (Industrialisation), Charity Ngilu (Land, Housing and Urbn Development), and Judy Wakungu (Environment, Water and Natural Resources) were represented by senior staff from their ministries.
Min 2/11/2013 says, thus, “(Minister Koskei) reminded members that ASCU was a multi-faceted institution and not under the total control of any single ministry in the sector”. He added, thus “through ASCU, the sector developed many strategies and policies, whose implementation reduce omissions, overlaps and duplication of programs, while ensuring projects are prioritized and resources are utilized effectively”.
He approved the circulation of the meeting’s proceedings, on November 19, 2013.
He made an about-turn three months later. On February 20, 2014, he formed a team to audit ASCU’s operations, an act Dr Kithome considers “imprudent, unreasonable, arbitrary”.
Legal commentators consider Koskei’s move unlawful because the agency’s work cut across several ministries and thus under the control of an inter-ministerial committee, not a single ministry.
In a letter to F.N Njau, head of Internal Audit, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, dated February 20, 2014, Koskei agrees that ASCU “is an inter-ministerial unit that facilitates the implementation and coordination of agricultural sector strategies”, but directs the auditor to conduct a systems audit review of the Unit.
Yet, according to documents available, ASCU’s financial operations for the period up to June 30, 2013 were audited by the reliable Deloitte&Touche. “In our opinion, the financial statements give a true and fair view of the state of the financial position of ASCU as at 30 June 2013 and of its financial performance for the year then ended in accordance with the accounting policies …,” Deloitte&Touche stated. “We believe that the audit evidence we have obtained is sufficient and appropriate to provide a basis for our audit opinion.”
At the core of Koskei-directed audit are ASCU’s funding, procurement systems, governance, and oversight structures.
Peculiarly, the letter wasn’t copied to ministries that comprise the agricultural sector, neither was it made available to donors despite the fact that ASCU is externally funded.
And this could explain why donors are concerned about the happenings at Kilimo House. Indeed three weeks after the Minister instituted the task force, more than 14 donors representing European Union, USAID, World Bank, DANIDA, GIZ, DFID, UNDP, UNIDO met government top officials where it was agreed that ASCU be “located in a neutral ground to ensure that the mechanism is beneficial to all and not seen as an extension of one particular ministry”.
Dr Songa, the PS for Industrialisation chaired the meeting at Hotel Intercontinental Nairobi, on March13, 2014. Curiously, Ministry of Agriculture appeared to have boycotted it though other sectoral ministries were represented by Richard Lesiyampe (PS, Environment, Water and natural Resources), Mwanamaka Mabruki (PS, East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism), Paul Mathiu (Commerce), Joel Iluve (Lands, Housing and urban Development), and ASCU.
And following the resolution, ASCU immediately identified office space on NSSF Building, Nairobi. It was to occupy the 911-ft space from April 1, 2014. But the Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries had different ideas.
On March 27, 2014 Philomena Koech, acting for the Agriculture Principal Secretary, wrote to ASCU coordinator Kithome thus, “It has been reported that the staff in your office removed office equipment, files and other materials from Kilimo House … without official clearance from the Ministry’s Caretaker and security. This is viewed as serious omission on the part of your officers and appropriate disciplinary measures will be instituted.”
But The Nairobi Law Monthly was able to access a copy of gate pass signed by the Ministry of Agriculture (specifically, a Mr Koech, security official of the ministry) allowing ASCU officials to move out a desktop computer and its cables and a box file. The gate pass was dated March 21, 2014 – six days ahead of Philomena Koech’s letter questioning the relocation of the equipment and documents
On the same day, March 21, 2014, Principal Secretary Sicily Kariuki wrote to Dr Kithome. “As you are ware the Internal Audit General is conducting an audit in ASCU. We have information that you are shifting important accountable documents and equipment to defeat the audit exercise. In view of this conduct of your lack of cooperation with the auditors you are asked to step aside from operating any official business relating to (ASCU) immediately with effect from today and hand over the office inventory and documents to Internal Auditor Francis Njau”.
Curiously, the dismissal letter was copied only to Minister Koskei and Auditor Njau.
Kilimo House agents later raided the new ASCU offices and took away some documents and computers.
Donors and the other allied ministries are unaware of the development at ASCU. “I think the Minister is mistaken to believe ASCU is an agency within his ministry. Only an inter-ministerial oversight committee can take action against ASCU and/or its agents. And that can only be done through legal means. As its stand, his actions are ultra vires,” says a GIZ official.
GIZ is a key donor to the agency.
Treasury sources told this publication that any internal audit can only be instituted by Finance Principal Secretary. Mr Koskei’s move, they say, is illegal.
The composition of the task force has also come under scrutiny following claims that some of its members are related to top officials in the Ministry.
Perhaps the key question is: Why are mandarins positioning themselves to take over ASCU and consequently AFFA?
Once created, AFFA will be a multi-billion shillings outfit. It will be in charge of the one-million acre Galana Irrigation scheme. It will take over the functions of over 40 state corporations.
Without ASCU, the Ministry is a shell because 90 per cent of agriculture’s key functions have been devolved to counties.
The same bureaucrats are placing themselves in pole position to oversee the transfer of asset from the 40 state corporations to AFFA, as provided for in the Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority Act 2013
The battle at ASCU is a replica of feuds now rocking NSSF, KWS, EAPC where ministers seek to micro-manage institutions that are ideally independent and under the charge of their respective boards of directors.