Peter Munya: The man with a hard docket

It was a vote of confidence in Peter Munya’s abilities that he was appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives in January 2020. He was tasked with dealing with cartels in the value chain and, it was hoped, streamlining a sector that formed the foundation of Kenya’s economy. The docket was troublesome. Locusts and Covid-19 were added to his to-do list.

How Munya was to navigate all these would set him apart from many of his Cabinet colleagues and he would become a familiar face as he addressed the problems in the agriculture sector.

After serving as the first governor of Meru County for five years, he was appointed Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of East African Community and Northern Corridor Development in 2018. He was also elected chairman of the Council of Governors, where he fought for the consolidation of devolution in the face of a funding crisis. President Kenyatta appointed him CS for Industry, Trade, and Cooperatives two years later.

The lawyer-turned-politician was born Peter Gatirau Munya in 1969 in Muthaara, Tigania, and attended Chogoria Boys High School for his ‘O’ levels before moving on to Meru High School for his ‘A’ levels. He was the chairman of the Debating Club and the Provincial Public Speaking Competition winner. He received his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1993 from the University of Nairobi, where he was twice elected chairman of the Kenya Law Students Society (KLLS) in 1992 and 1993. He was awarded a Belgian embassy scholarship in January 1995 and enrolled at the University of Brussels, where he earned a master’s degree in International Law. Later, at the University of Georgia, he earned a second master’s degree in Public and International Law.

Back home, he taught law at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies, the Kenya School of Professional Studies, and Moi University before joining politics in 2002 when he contested and won the Tigania East parliamentary seat on a National Rainbow Coalition ticket.

But it was his appointment by President Kenyatta as minister for East African Community and Northern Corridor Development between January 2018 and July 2019 that would cement his position in the Cabinet.

Munya’s tenure came at a difficult time when Kenya and Tanzania were embroiled in a diplomatic spat that resulted in the confiscation and destruction of Kenyan goods at the border. On February 13, just before he was sworn in, the Tanzanian government confiscated and destroyed day-old chicks at the Namanga border crossing. Another 5,000 chicks were confiscated five months earlier, ostensibly due to a lack of proper documentation.

It also coincided with the government’s decision to develop the Northern Corridor, a multimodal trade route linking the landlocked countries of South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, and Uganda with the Mombasa port. The Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Agreement (NCTTA) was first signed in 1985 and revised in 2007 by all the countries except South Sudan, which acceded to the agreement in 2012.

As the minister in charge, Munya was the foremost regional diplomat as he actualised the realisation of the treaty.
But his tenure was cut short when he was appointed to the troubled Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives on July 13, 2018, swapping places with Adan Mohammed. It was during Munya’s time at Trade that the war on counterfeits gathered momentum as the Jubilee government started a major crackdown on illicit trade and counterfeits.

According to the 2018 National Baseline Survey on Counterfeit and Other Forms of Illicit Trade in Kenya, illicit trade in the country was worth Ksh826 billion, up from Ksh726 billion in 2017, a rise by 14 per cent. The country was also losing Ksh153 billion every year in revenue. This accounted for 96 per cent of the total government revenue loss and this had raised the alarm within the government. In June 2019, the CS presided over an exercise aimed at destroying counterfeits worth millions of shillings as a multi-agency force was appointed to help eradicate the vice, which was controlled by established cartels.

On March 3, 2020, Munya handed over the Trade and Industry docket to Betty Maina – just as the Covid-19 was starting to disrupt trade through a global shutdown. The coronavirus had been detected in China in December 2019 and this was immediately followed by flight suspensions and lockdowns.

By the time Munya was leaving the Trade docket for Agriculture, he was seeking expanded market access with Chinese partners as the Asian country emerged as a big market for Kenyan products – especially stevia and avocado. He had also started working on crucial policies, including the Automotive Policy, the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Policy, Regulation of SME Fund laws, and the Local Content and Public Procurement Expansion policies.

Peter Munya receives President Uhuru Kenyatta for the inauguration of the Rivatex ultra-modern production plant in Eldoret in June 2019.

Munya replaced Mwangi Kiunjuri at the Ministry of Agriculture, which now also included the Cooperative docket, at a time the President was publicly complaining about the cartels in the agriculture sector. A maize scandal had rocked the National Cereals and Produce Board, which had paid several maize importers huge sums of money at the expense of local farmers. During that year’s Mashujaa Day rally at Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega, an angry President Kenyatta told Kiunjuri: “The time for games is over. Look for those stealing public resources, bring them we take them to jail or you (Kiunjuri) will find yourself in trouble over these issues.” Some Ksh1.9 billion earmarked to pay local farmers had been paid to the importers.

Kiunjuri left soon after, and Munya took his place. His first task was to streamline the dairy industry, where milk farmers were facing low prices for their products. Munya directed the New Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) to raise the price of milk from Ksh25 to Ksh33 per litre, a day after the President directed Treasury to release Ksh500 million to buy excess milk from farmers.

While at the Trade Ministry, the CS was asked by Parliament to explain what he was doing to keep Kenya from being flooded with milk from Uganda. While data presented to Parliament showed that milk imports from East African Community (EAC) member states hit 110.7 million litres in 2018, Munya reminded the House that due to the EAC protocol, Kenya could not stop imports from Uganda.

Munya began lobbying Parliament to pass the new Cooperative Bill, which aimed to address the sector’s key governance challenges. The Cooperatives Act – Cap 490, which had been in effect since 2005, was to be replaced by the new Bill. The Bill addressed several key issues, including the registration of cooperatives and the vetting of their leaders in order to promote transparency in the sector. The Bill is still pending in Parliament, and it is one of the many frustrating efforts Munya has had to deal with in the agricultural value chain.

But there were other triumphs.

President Kenyatta promised to “increase the money in the pocket of the farmer” during a national address at State House, Mombasa on January 14, 2020. He stated that this would be accomplished by focusing anti-corruption efforts on those who had captured the agricultural sector and were exploiting their positions for illegal gain and trading in conflict of interest.

The tea and coffee industries would be the first targets.

With Kenya’s tea accounting for nearly 20 per cent of its total global exports, the onus fell on Munya to clean up the sector. The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) was under pressure over dwindling payments, conflict of interest, and strangling of farmer-owned factories. Also, there was lack of transparency in the declaration of dividends by subsidiary companies.

The war against KTDA was to be Munya’s greatest fight. The agency was a behemoth and its economic might straddled various institutions, including the Judiciary and Parliament, where it had mastered the tactics of legal survival. KTDA could file countless cases in court, keeping away anyone who tried to reorganise the tea sector.

That April, Munya announced a new set of regulations to protect tea farmers from exploitation and aptly captured all the problems facing the sector in a single sentence thus: “A major problem facing the tea value chain is a dysfunctional and inefficient tea auction system characterised by lack of transparency, accountability, and competition; and prone to manipulation, capture, insider trading, and cartelisation by value chain players leading to ineffective price discovery, low prices, and poor earnings to tea farmers.”

According to the new rules, all teas produced in Kenya for the export market would be sold solely through the auction. This would eventually lead to the prohibition of tea sales by private treaty, also known as Direct Sales Overseas, which were blamed for falling prices because they were negotiated outside the auction platform.

Munya said that the opening of a parallel window by tea brokers undermined the entire auction and interfered with the price discovery because KTDA-managed factories supplied over 60 per cent of tea to the auction. This not only lowered tea price, but also made it difficult for farmers to determine the true value of their produce.

Another of the Munya proposals was that all licensed tea auction organisers establish an electronic trading platform and that all buyers pay in full for all tea bids they win at the auction before they take custody and lift the tea for export. In addition, all money from the sale of tea at the auction was to be remitted directly to factory limited accounts within fourteen (14) days from the auction date less only the agreed commission for tea brokers.
The order also stated that tea farmers who marketed their produce through the KTDA should to be paid 50 per cent of the delivery every month, with the rest paid as bonus annually.

But if Munya was expecting a smooth ride, KTDA and other interested parties were determined not to give him one. Shortly after he gazetted the new Tea Regulations of 2020, and appointed a task force to help implement the rules, the CS was taken to court in a bid to stop the work of the task force, which was to be chaired by tea broker Jacob Kamau Kihiu. Other members were Irungu Nyakera (a former Permanent Secretary), former MP Langat Magerer, Fredrick Muriithi, John Kamau, former Tea Board of Kenya director David Chomba Gachoki, and tea trader Catherine Nyaboke Mogeni, and trade expert Wanja Michuki. With the new hurdles bringing his efforts to a halt, Munya’s dreams of instituting much-needed tea reforms seemed to have reached a dead end – thus putting Munya’s dream in the cooler.

It would be a major test as he began touring the country, speaking to tea farmers and urging them to support the reforms. Munya was attempting to gain the support of those who care about the sector’s survival by targeting farmers rather than politicians.

Despite the farmers’ support, Munya’s efforts to save the Tea Regulations 2020 were unsuccessful in the High Court. The CS then addressed the Tea Bill 2018, which was currently pending in the Senate. The Tea Trade Structure Bill, introduced by Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, sought not only to overhaul the tea trade structure, but also to reintroduce the Tea Board of Kenya as the new regulator.

Even so, as KTDA lobbied members to drop the Bill and politics continued to inform its survival, it faced new challenges. Finally, on December 22, 2020, the Senate passed the Tea Bill, which President Kenyatta signed the following day into law. It was a significant victory in the war against the tea cartels. Within a year, payments to tea farmers had increased by 44.6 percent, from Ksh34.71 per kilo of green leaf in 2021 to Ksh50.18 in 2022.

The coffee industry was also facing similar difficulties. Munya threatened to dissolve the indebted Kenya Planters Cooperative Union when he was at the Ministry of Trade (KPCU). The union, once owned by farmers, had been taken over by cartels, which were now holding it to ransom – together with the coffee farmers.

Munya had toured the KPCU yards and seen the rot within. To address the problem, he founded the New KPCU, which was to take over all the farmers’ assets and run the company – the same way New KCC had managed to revive the milk sector. A new board had also been appointed.

After this intervention and the revival of KPCU, milling losses went down from 24 per cent to 17 per cent, which meant that farmers had been losing an average of 6 per cent of their produce through false losses. The quality also significantly improved to 70 to 80 per cent in grade A. This meant that the coffee quality might have been tampered with.

The last of Munya’s battles was in the miraa trade after neighbouring Somalia – which purchases miraa worth an estimated Ksh20 million a day shut out Kenya. With Britain having locked out miraa from its markets, further trade restrictions were now hurting miraa farmers from Munya’s Meru backyard. Opening this market became a priority and Munya continued to push Mogadishu to reopen the markets.

However, it is the new miraa regulations that will transform the industry. The rules, which will be published in a special issue of the Kenya Gazette on June 9, 2022, detail a slew of provisions, including those concerning safety during stimulant harvesting and packaging, levies, and licenses. According to the rules, “Miraa shall not be stored or transported in together with other produce,” and that “a vessel used for transportation of miraa shall be built and equipped to ensure maintenance of optimal temperatures and hygiene to prevent damage, contamination, and spoilage of produce.”

His fighting spirit and resilience have seen Munya navigate his various dockets and bring about change. This has seen him successfully handle some of the most difficult dockets and thus help to define President Kenyatta’s legacy.

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