OUR TURN TO EAT
State bosses target parastatals billions
By NLM Team
Reminiscent of the 2004 shady deals that almost sunk President Mwai Kibaki’s regime, key government agencies are now in the crosshairs of powerful ministers out to control their multi-billion shillings’ budgets
. Among those targeted are Agricultural Sector Coordination Unit (forerunner of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority), Geothermal Development Corporation (GDC), EA Portland Cement, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).
Power barons consider these parastatals money spinners and fertile ground for job opportunities for their cronies. “It’s all about the control of billions of shillings made by, or allocated to, powerful parastatals,” says a source in the Presidency concerned that some State mandarins seek to overrun key State agencies.
Even President Uhuru Kenyatta has protested the underhand goings-on. “In my office, there are people who think that it is a house for making money. We must agree it has to come to an end,” he said while launching the Security Sector Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) last February.
“They want to hold on to the parastatals so that they can eat; because the state corporations are the epicenter, the hub, of corruption, avenues of patronage,” says Ndung’u Wainaina, the executive director, International Center for Policy and Conflict. “What these people are trying to do is resuscitate the old order” that was dismantled by the new Constitution.
International journalist and renown author Michela Wrong captured such a scenario six years ago, when she wrote “It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower,” the plight of John Githongo, the print journalist turned whistleblower who exposed the multi-billion shillings Anglo Leasing swindle. Top officials of Kibaki’s government raided the economy with the intent of driving away with the tax-payers’ purse.
After the exposure, the State claimed it had nullified the contracts. But it has now emerged that Kenya will have to part with Sh125 billion to pay for the breach of contract with the shadowy suppliers. The affected companies went to international courts and won compensation against Kenya.
Kenyans, it would appear, are seeing “our turn to eat” playback.
“(Corruption) is much higher than ever,” says Githongo, former Permanent Secretary for Ethics and Governance “People are not only recouping what they used in 2013 elections, they are also raising funds for 2017. President Kenyatta, he says, is frustrated that corruption is not ending.
A fortnight ago, top officials of Agricultural Sector Coordination Unit (ASCU), the inter-ministerial body that steered reforms in the agricultural sector, and which is legally mandated to act as AFFA through a two-year transition period, has moved to block Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Minister Felix Koskei from interfering with its functions.
(See next story)
(AFFA, a Sh150 billion-budget parastatal which, once established, will take-over the functions of 40 state corporations drawn from several ministries allied to the agricultural sector)
Earlier, at a meeting with the ACSU officials, Koskei had allegedly made it clear he wanted to have “my people” run the outfit.
In Langata, KWS headquarters, staff rumbles are very loud following government’s decision to suspend six top officials of the wildlife custodian. The government also plans a raft of extra-judicial measures it says, will bring sanity to the organization. Yet, what the State doesn’t say is that its interest in KWS is hardly ethical. Insiders say power barons and donors are in fierce fight to control this strategic, multi-billion shillings’ wildlife sector.
At the NSSF, the Ombudsman Amolo Otiende has isolated deception in the management of the Sh5 billionTassia project yet Minister Kazungu Kambi still insists the project is aboveboard. Otiende wants the NSSF Chief Executive Officer Richard Langat held responsible for the faulty management of the project including the tendering and approval processes.
Incidentally, COTU secretary Francis Atwoli (a members of the NSSF Board) and Minister Kambi have crossed swords over the project. “I now want my good friend (Atwoli) to tell us what his interests were for him to issue these statements while he had been given the opportunity to say why this project should not go on,” said Kambi.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Corruption Commission is investigating the contract.
At the EAPC, mandarins are targeting the 20,000-hectare chunk of land it owns along Mombasa Road, not very from from the proposed Konza metropolis. A series of government decisions in the recent past has questioned its interests in the Corporation.
And the GDC is in the crosshairs of top government officials who own companies that seek to benefit from its great potential. A private company associated with a top government official is at the centre of the management wrangles now being investigated by Ethics and anti-Corruption Commission.
Indeed, this special report is a glimpse into the fierce battle for the parastatals’ billions. “We have been using parastatals as a reward system. It’s the older order fighting back. Kenyans should be very careful (about the happenings),” says Wainaina.