Peter Munya, Cabinet Secretary for Trade, Industry and Co-operatives

Embu farmers irked by findings on coffee cooperative

By Kamundia Muriithi

An inquiry into alleged malpractices at New Kyeni Farmer’s Cooperative Society has absolved the management from the allegations, but left the farmers dissatisfied.

Farmers had accused the management of the Embu-based society of various malpractices and abuse of office, which they said led growers to uproot their coffee.

The row escalated to a point where last year, the Parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry and Cooperatives launched investigations into the complaints raised by the farmers.

This was after human rights activist Taratisio Kawe and coffee farmers Richard Kinyua, George Nyaga, Weru Kirutha and Erastus Nthiga petitioned the National Assembly on behalf of society members to probe the society.

After the probe, the Kieni East MP Kanini Kega led committee recommended that the Commissioner of Cooperatives conducts an inquiry into the affairs of the society and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate alleged mismanagement of assets and loss of coffee proceeds at Society.

Consequently, the Commissioner authorized Hesbon Kiura, Principal Cooperative Officer, Nairobi and Lawrence Magaju, the Cooperative Auditor Tharaka Nithi, to conduct the inquiry.

The report of the inquiry was released in September 2019 and absolved the management from malpractices. The report says the allegations raised had no merit, the complaints were without facts, and the complainants “dishonest and untrustworthy”.

However, a section of farmers is displeased with the report’s findings saying it departed from that of the parliamentary committee and raised more questions than answers.

In a press statement yesterday, the farmers accused the commissioner of disregarding their concerns about some of the society’s by-laws which they say are not in tandem with the constitution.

“The composition of the management committee violates the two-thirds gender rule as it is dominated by men. Whereas the constitution provides for public participation, the by-laws gags members with production of less than 300kgs of coffee. We had hoped the commissioner would address this, but he didn’t,” said Kawe.

But the commissioner said, “the society under the leadership of Charles Kariuki had complied with section 28 (6) of the Cooperative Societies Act Cap 490 and other cooperative legislation, as they conducted the business with diligence despite challenges facing the sub-sector and which are beyond their control”.

L-R-Human rights activist Taratisio Kawe and coffee farmers Erastus Nthigah and John Kathangu and during a press statement where they reacted following an inquiry into New Kyeni Cooperative Society. Photo Kamundia Muriithi.

Farmer John Kathangu accused the inquirers of lacking goodwill, adding that nothing in the report shows they visited the coffee farmers.

He said the inquirers should have been accompanied by a valuer who could tell if there was value for money in the construction of an office block by the society.

“The commissioner has failed to address the concerns of the farmers. For that reason, we appeal to President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and order an incisive inquiry into not only New Kyeni but all troubled coffee societies,” said Kathangu.

Erastus Nthiga, another farmer, said his complaint that the management had declared him not a society member even when his sufficient evidence was ignored.

The commissioner, however, concluded the expulsion of members was a disciplinary action as provided for in the by-laws.

Whereas the petitioners had alleged that the management could not account for a Sh6.3 million debt waiver from the government, the commissioner found out that the (waived) money referred to funds the society owed to Cooperative Bank of Kenya. He added that the individual debts by members under Stabex Funds for farm inputs were not cleared and individual farmers are expected to honour their liabilities.

The petitioners had also accused the management of spending Sh14 million to construct a storied building for society headquarters whereas members had only approved Sh7 million.

But the commissioner responded: “The inquiry confirms that the procedure for procurement of various services, jobs and implementation of the construction work was done satisfactorily and in compliance with the law”.

They had also accused the management misusing funds leading to low returns for farmer’s coffee, and failure to account expenditure and income on the society’s coffee farm and vehicles, and that the society was on its knees.

The commissioner absolved the management from bringing the society to its knees saying the claim was not backed by any documentary evidence.

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