Budget committee in crisis talks over fertiliser billions
Top officials from the National Treasury were last evening holed up in a meeting with members of the Budget and Appropriation Committee over discrepancies in the Supplementary Budget which have re-allocated money set aside for the purchase of fertiliser.
The meeting was chaired by Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani and was expected to address other thorny issues raised by MPs during the second reading of the mini-budget.
The Treasury has reallocated Sh5.7 billion, meant to purchase fertiliser, to the Security docket. The amount had been factored in after recommendations by the Agriculture Committee.
During a stormy session last Thursday, MPs protested the reallocation of the fertiliser money, with Agriculture Committee chairman Silas Tiren warning: “We will paralyse the Supplementary Budget on Tuesday if nothing happens to reinstate the entire amount between now and then”.
But yesterday, Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu, who sits on the Budget Committee, explained why the money was removed from the mini-budget, even as he confirmed that the matter was to be discussed during the meeting with Yatani.
Very small amount
“The Treasury allocated Sh1.6 billion for purchase of fertiliser, an amount we in the Budget Committee found to be too small for the purpose and asked that it be reallocated,” said Mulu.
He said his committee would ask Treasury to look for more funds for the purchase of fertiliser by reallocating money from non-essential areas.
Tiren, who is also the Moiben MP, said despite reallocating the budgetary requests for the Ministry of Agriculture to secure the Sh5.734 billion subsidy, the Treasury had gone ahead and transferred the money to the Security docket
“The committee had allocated Sh5.7 billion for fertiliser subsidy. But to our dismay, no single shilling has been allocated in the Supplementary Budget,” said Tiren.
He told members that Treasury had removed the entire amount meant to bolster farmers from high prices of fertiliser. “I have raised the matter with the Speaker and hope it will be addressed before the Tuesday sitting,” Tiren said.
Agriculture Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Lawrence Omuhaka, while appearing before the Agriculture Committee last week, said the ministry was expecting Parliament to approve the Sh5.7 billion in the mini-budget to cushion farmers ahead of the long-rains planting season.
“We are at a loss. We have no money to purchase fertiliser,” Omuhaka said.
MPs asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and order the reinstatement of the money before the Supplementary Budget is approved today.
The Sh5.7 billion was estimated to offer subsidies on 114,000 tonnes of various fertilisers to 910,000 farmers.
The committee accused the Treasury and the Budget and Appropriations Committee (BAC) of scheming to remove the entire budget for the fertiliser subsidy.
“We are asking the President to intervene and order the release of the subsidy. Farmers are extremely desperate and the government is quiet,” Tiren said.
The committee asked President Kenyatta to order Treasury to invoke Article 223 of the Constitution which allows the withdrawal of funds from the Consolidated Fund before seeking the approval of Parliament.
“Food security is more important than gun security. Unless the government is planning to build more mortuaries, a hungry person has nothing to lose,” said Kabuchai MP Majimbo Kalasinga.
“We want all MPs who represent farmers to come out in their true colours on Tuesday and make a decision on the Supplementary Budget. Fertilisers are key to ensuring food security. If fertiliser prices have doubled, the cost of importing maize will triple,” Kalasinga said.
Kalasinga said the committee was concerned that the government was not supporting farmers as demonstrated by the inactivity of the Ministry of Agriculture.
“We are in the planting season; what is the ministry doing to ensure farmers benefit from the subsidy, Mr CAS ?” posed Tiren.
Machakos County Woman Representative Joyce Kamene expressed shock that the ministry has not come up with any solution even after the fertiliser money was removed. She said: “Whatever we requested to be put in the Supplementary Budget to subsidise fertiliser prices was removed. The Speaker deferred the debate on the Supplementary Budget but no solution seems to be forthcoming.”
Kamene wondered why the Treasury subsidised fuel to a tune of Sh12 billion every month but is finding it hard to subsidise fertiliser.