Impunity at the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) is at the verge of throwing the company over the cliff as small scale farmers decry unending exploitation by the top management.
The cries recently attracted the attention of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga who last week convened a meeting at his office at Capital hill with players in the tea sector to deliberate on the way forward for the company that is said to have completely lost track.
The meeting was largely on how to tame fraud at KTDA that has resulted in the loss of billions.
Despite KTDA auctioning tea at Ksh60, farmers only take home Ksh16 per Kg.
Alarmed, the opposition chief who doubles up as the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development made a special call to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to launch investigations into the fraud at KTDA to safeguard interests of farmers and the nation at large.
Reports have emerged that prior to Mr Odinga’s call, directors at Kiru Teac company Limited in Murang’a had written to the DCI over the ongoings at KTDA.
The directors appealed to the DCI to investigate cartels at the helm of KTDA who continued to abuse their offices.
According to reports, the mandarins at KTDA, Chief Executive Officer Samwel Tiampati and his five directors, are still holding to office despite being sentenced for contempt of court on April 4.
The five include Eston Gakunga Gikore, Kennedy Omanga, Francis Macharia and Stephen Maina Githiga.
The team was handed a seven months imprisonment or Ksh400,000 fine for orchestrating the ouster of plant’s chairman, Chege Kirundi.
They were found guilty of disobeying court orders issued in December 2017 to stop the removal or replacement of Mr Kirundi.
Kiru moved to court in a protracted battle after KTDA refused to accept Geoffrey Kirundi as company chairman elected legally during the company’s annual general meeting.
The KTDA management had sided with Stephen Githiga who had been floored by Mr Kirundi in the elections.
Despite the registrar of companies confirming Kirundi as chairman, CEO Tiampati and Mr Githiga, who was also sentenced, opposed Mr Kirundi’s appointment.
Kirundi was among the leaders who attended the Wednesday meeting with Mr Odinga.
Mr Odinga was angered by the fact that the company was being run by convicts who don’t value company legal procedures.
“It is the usual tale of conflict of interest, lack of transparency, the impunity that includes disobeying court orders, corruption and wrong attitude that has killed many sectors before now getting entrenched in KTDA. We need to urgently address the price gap between auction and retail; which is currently so large. There is no fairness when the tea is auctioned at Sh60 per kg and the farmer is paid Sh18 for the same,” Mr Odinga said during the forum.
The bonafide Kiru directors seized the moment to inform the ODM leader that their move to be independent and join the Kenya Tea Traders Association, a body that registers tea traders, has also been blocked by KTDA mandarins.
The Kiru letter to the trade association, with a membership fee of ksh300,000, is reported to have found its way to KTDA, a move that has elicited mixed reactions, with many questioning the external forces believed to be behind the shenanigans.
The association’s chairman Gideon Mugo could not explain how the letter found its way to KTDA and under whose instructions.
Among the issues, the DCI sleuths are expected to train their guns on are fraudulent activities where KTDA deposited Ksh4 billion with small collapsed banks – Imperial Bank and Chase Bank – without due diligence of securing the money with stable banks.
The second issue will be to bring to light why KTDA pays farmers Ksh16 despite Kiru’s proposal of more than Ksh25 per kilogramme.
Third, the sleuths will be looking into non-payments to Kiru tea factory limited funds from KTDA and the use of state agents to frustrate Kiru officials.
Last but not least, DCI is expected to investigate the refusal by KTDA to order forensic audit as demanded by Kiru and other tea factories as well as other related malpractices.
Raila’s calls have put Mr Tiampati and Mr Githiga at an awkward position with tension looming over their involvement in spearheading impunity at KTDA. The duo is reported to have misused their relationship with President Kenyatta’s kin George Muhoho.
They are reported to have attempted to use Muhoho to reach the president and undermine the rule of law.
The president is on record acknowledging the rot at KTDA.
The mandarins at the helm of the agency are accused of swindling KTDA billions from the supply of lubricant oil, fertilizers and motor vehicle and maintenance spare parts.
Insurance, printing and construction services are also said to benefit the officials who care less of the farmers’ hard work.
With the revelations, it will be interesting to see what unfolds next.