KENYA- A Kenyan parliamentary committee recently queried the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) for operating without a board for five and a half years after the previous board of directors ceased to operate on November 7, 2017.
The AFA is a State corporation in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives established in 2014 by merging former regulatory institutions in the food sector.
The board consists of Principal Secretaries for Agriculture, Finance, and Lands and eight others representing various farmer organizations.
According to the Public Investments Committee on Social Services and Agriculture, the AFA illegally approved its budget without being sanctioned by the board for over five years.
It was only earlier this year on March 23, 2023, that President William Ruto set up the board and appointed Cornelly Serem, a former Kenyan member of parliament, the chairperson of the AFA for a five-year term.
According to Emanuel Wangwe, who chairs the committee, the AFA was operating illegally, especially on matters of budget approvals.
“There was, therefore, no support to the accounting officer with regard to responsibilities for issues of risk, control and governance and associated assurance and follow up on the implementation of recommendation of internal and external auditors as envisaged under regulation 175 of the Public Finance Management Act (National Government) Regulations, 2015,” Emanuel Wangwe, said.
These queries put Willis Audi, AFA director-general, in a tight spot as he tried to explain where the management got the power to approve the authority’s budget.
The committee also demanded to know how the governance and oversight at the agency went on without a board.
According to the committee, the 13-member board of directors oversees the regulation and promotion of agriculture and food production, ensuring food safety and quality, and advising the government on policies and strategies to increase agricultural productivity and competitiveness.
“You operated illegally for five and a half years. The management under the AFA Act had no authority to approve the budget. The Ministry of Agriculture should have constituted a board and not act as a board in approving your budget,” Mr Wangwe said.
However, Mr. Audi retaliated that the management had no mandate to appoint a board after the term of the interim board lapsed in 2017.
According to him, the appointment of the board chairman is the prerogative of the President, while the eight representatives of the farmer organizations were to be appointed by the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture.
“There was nothing we could do other than to keep writing reminders to the CS Agriculture to appoint the board. I want to admit that we may have operated illegally in the absence of the board. But we relied on the Ministry, which approved all our budgets,” Mr Audi said.
He said the AFA management relied on the Ministry of Agriculture to approve its budget for the five years the board did not exist.
Andrew Osodo, AFA’s legal manager, concurred with Mr. Audi, saying that the absence of the board doesn’t mean the authority operated illegally.