At least 250 traders have applied for import licences to bring in maize under the duty-free window that is set to start this week for the next seven months.
The traders who are seeking to cash in on the waiver issued by the government have outnumbered registered millers by far raising concern that the exercise could be taken over by cartels.
It is only 22 millers who have applied to import the duty free maize. Millers now want the government to prioritise them in order to ensure that the low import prices are passed on to consumers.
They say this will ensure that the processors do not miss out on allocation.
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“The priority should go to millers before anyone else is allocated. We are the ones doing the processing,” Rajan Shah, chief executive at Capwell Industries told the Business Daily.
Faced with a challange of high food prices, the government has opened a window for the importation of at least 10 million bags of maize starting this week. The importation window which will run up to August just in time for the harvest season in the north rift food basket is expected to ease the runaway cost of flour that has remained high for the last couple of months with a two-kilo packet hitting Sh200.
Last week, President William Ruto promised that the price of unga will go down to Sh120 within the next six months.
“At the moment, we have reduced one packet from Sh230 to Sh180 and in the next six months it will be at Sh120. So, shut up so that we can show you how a government is run,” said Ruto while taking a swipe at the Azimio coaliation.
However, despite the president’s lofty promise it is feared that the duty free import window may not bring down maize prices if cartels are allowed to take charge of the process.
In 2009, the PNU government led by President Mwai Kibaki lifted a similar ban on the importation of maize by allowing capable businessmen to import the grain to supplement the local produce that was short of the minimum required to satisfy the local market.
Briefcase millers, existing only on paper, some of whom were defunct at the time when the scandal unfolded, were awarded large quantities of maize by the Strategic Grain Reserve. They accomplished this by inflating their milling per-hour capacity and having four Permanent Secretaries approve them.
Some of the maize imported by the businessmen was certified unfit for human consumption but was released into the market after directions of senior government officials.
These actions led to what is commonly known as the maize scandal. There are fears it could re occur if the duty free window is not handled well.
The government is however yet to issue guidelines on the importation, which will include the allocation of quotas.
“We are currently processing the application and we are going to issue the permits soon,” said Agriculture PS Harsama Kerrow.