January 13, 2009 / 8:41 AM / in 11 years

Kenya investigates maize corruption claims

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya launched an investigation on Tuesday into allegations of illegal maize trading that have opened a new rift in the fractious coalition government.

Kenya's Justice Minister Martha Karua addresses journalists at the Wilson airport in Nairobi, February 14, 2008. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Justice Minister Martha Karua accuses officials in the Agriculture Ministry of profiting from a current shortage of Kenya’s staple food. Agriculture Minister William Ruto rejects that and blames last year’s post-election turmoil.

Karua is an ally of President Mwai Kibaki, while Ruto is an ally of former opposition leader Raila Odinga, who became prime minister under a power-sharing deal to end the violence.

No accusation was made against Ruto himself.

The government spokesman said Kibaki’s administration was taking Karua’s allegations very seriously, and that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and other state agencies would now establish the truth.

“The findings will be made public and appropriate action taken,” spokesman Alfred Mutua pledged in a statement.

The graft claims are the latest to rock the unity government, which was formed in April 2008 to end ethnic and political violence that killed about 1,300 people and drove 300,000 from their homes after a disputed presidential election.

Allegations of shady dealings in the maize market are particularly sensitive for Kenyans, many of whom are afflicted by a drought that has left 10 million needing food aid.

Ruto says the shortage was caused by the post-election crisis, when many farmers fled their lands, and that the government had taken steps to begin importing an additional 5 million bags of maize to cover the shortfall.

News of the investigation broke days after the boss of the state-owned Kenya Pipeline Company was fired over the irregular release of oil reserves worth nearly $100 million.

Last week, the head of the Kenya Tourist Board was sacked to allow an investigation into accusations of graft there.

Political pundit Macharia Gaitho said there now no doubt “mega-corruption” was entrenched in the coalition government, whose structure made holding ministers to account very hard.

“However corrupt or incompetent, no minister can be sacked, transferred or demoted unless both parties to the power-sharing deal are in agreement,” he wrote in Tuesday’s Daily Nation.

“Many are working as if they have been given carte blanche to loot and plunder, because ultimately they are not answerable to any single authority.”

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