Minister and PS differ over Sh6bn fertiliser contract

A parliamentary committee has adjourned its probe into the controversial Sh6 billion fertiliser supply contract after acting Agriculture minister Adan Mohamed contradicted his principal secretary, Sicily Kariuki.

The National Assembly Agriculture committee opted to adjourn the sittings after Mr Mohamed said he was not prepared to respond to “weighty” questions from members.

The MPs also decided not to proceed with questioning Ms Kariuki, who was behind the signing of the contract with UK firm Holbud Limited — the company that struck the lucrative three-year fertilizer supply deal.

The MPs put the ministry officials to task to explain why they prepared and signed an international fertiliser supply contract and handed it over to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to execute.

Ms Kariuki defended the deal, saying the government made savings of Sh400.8 million in the last three orders.

“We made sure that we did not lock in on prices. When we ordered, we used international fertiliser prices and negotiated with the contractor as spelt out in the contract. In the first contract we saved Sh200 million, in the second (S4.8 million) and in the third Sh166 million.

Mr Mohamed said the contract had “issues in the way it was drafted”, adding that it bound the ministry to source its fertiliser subsidy from the company and not any other supplier world over.

“The tender was open and awarded to one person. This contract has no exit clause. I seek your indulgence that I came back to you on this big matter,” he said as he sought more time from MPs.

“One way I think is that we don’t order fertiliser from these guys (Holbud). But we are obliged under the terms and conditions of the contract to order from them. If we must, then we have a challenge with this contract,” Mr Mohamed said.

He said the ministry prepared the tender and assigned it to NCPB, the government agency charged with overseeing the importation of subsidised fertiliser.

MPs John Serut (Mt Elgon) and Ferdinand Wanyonyi (Kwanza) demanded to know why the ministry acted on behalf of NCPB.

“Previously, the ministry relied on the Treasury for supplementary allocations for procurement of fertiliser. This occasioned delays in importation of fertiliser,” she said.

Ms Kariuki said the ministry got an independent budget for fertiliser imports in the last financial year and decided to issue an international tender.

“We needed a level of certainty. We consulted the Treasury and Public Procurement Oversight Authority on the legality of entering into a three or five year supply contract and they told us the law allows for long term procurement of consumables like fertiliser,” she said.

The committee will set another date to grill Mr Mohamed, Ms Kariuki and NCPB managers.