Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wetang’ula, PS resign in graft fallout

WILLIAM OERI| NATION I am walking away: Foreign Affairs Minister  Moses Wetang’ula leaves his office on Wednesday, after he stepped aside to pave way for investigations into the embassy scandals.

WILLIAM OERI| NATION I am walking away: Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetang’ula leaves his office on Wednesday, after he stepped aside to pave way for investigations into the embassy scandals.  

By DAVE OPIYO, [email protected], and JOHN NGIRACHU, [email protected]

Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula and permanent secretary Thuita Mwangi left office on Wednesday, bringing to a dramatic close the parliamentary investigation into scandals in several embassies.

Hours after they quit, the House adopted the report of the departmental Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations, which had recommended that they step aside to clear the way for investigations.

The stage for their resignations was set by a pointedly harsh speech by President Kibaki who had warned that no one would be spared in the fight against corruption.

President Kibaki said while opening the Office of the Prime Minister: “We must and will firmly and systematically deal with the issues of corruption.”

He also ordered all government departments to quickly complete investigations into corruption cases and hand them over to the relevant agencies.
Mr Mwangi’s announcement preceded a meeting with the Head of State at his Harambee House office, according to an Office of the President official. The official said Mr Mwangi presented the letter of his stepping aside to the President, who accepted it.

A second official said Mr Wetang’ula met the President at 2pm for 25 minutes at State House, after which he announced that he was stepping aside in an eloquent but pained speech at a press conference in his office. Forestry minister Noah Wekesa, Housing minister Soita Shitanda and Kimilili MP Eseli Simiyu, were at the press conference.

Both the minister and the PS protested their innocence and said they were confident that the investigations would clear them. “I will be back,” swore Mr Wetang’ula.

The House committee investigation into the purchase or sale of embassies in Japan, Nigeria, Belgium and Pakistan and concluded that some of the transactions were fraudulent, corrupt or irregular.

“I want to tell Kenyans with a clear conscience that I have this afternoon made the decision to step aside from my responsibility and appointment as minister for Foreign Affairs to give room and pleasure to those who have been tormenting and haunting me for three to four weeks, to give room to the very able arms of investigations to carry out their investigations,” he said.

In Parliament, the odds were against Mr Wetang’ula, who had on Tuesday afternoon laboured to blame officers in the ministry for the improprieties that form the body of the report.

On Wednesday, he attributed his troubles to the parliamentary committee, whose report he dismissed as laced with malice, rumours, innuendo, conjecture and crafted “in the most unprofessional character”.

“Where I come from, they say a bedbug told his kids whatever is hot will always cool down. I have no doubt this will. When I am vindicated, I’ll be back,” he vowed.

“Those who carry daggers against others should know that the forces of evil will never last. In God we trust,” the Sirisia MP said.

“I want to thank you because you’ve given me the publicity I have never had in my whole life, perhaps I will never have… the publicity that every politician desires to have. Even those who didn’t know me do so now,” he said of the media, which he accused of lending support to his detractors.

He said he had given in to the “court of public opinion and the court of the Fourth Estate which have found the minister of Foreign Affairs culpable.”

Mr Mwangi said his decision was an expression of his confidence that investigations by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission would prove him innocent.

“I step aside purely as a matter of personal dignity and professional integrity — indeed, the very same dignity and integrity I have upheld in the performance of my duties for more than 22 years of public service at various levels in the government,” Mr Mwangi said in a statement posted on the government spokesman’s website. 

Speaking to the Press at his former office, Mr Wetang’ula said: “The only thing I must do is to step aside and give my appointing authority, the President... an opportunity to have a free hand to address this issue. I’m sure he does not want to have a corrupt minister in his fold.”

He went to Parliament as the afternoon session began, where he was joined by Kimilili’s Dr Simiyu, Mr Shitanda and Dr Wekesa.

On Tuesday, Dr Simiyu introduced an amendment to the motion whose adoption would have resulted in the deletion of paragraphs accusing the minister. But it was roundly criticised by backbenchers, who were further irritated when Public Service minister Dalmas Otieno attacked the report as unprofessional.

MPs Martha Karua (Gichugu, PNU), Isaac Ruto (Chepalungu, ODM) and Farah Maalim (Lagdera, ODM) appeared to set the mood for the rejection of the proposed amendment.

Dr Simiyu withdrew the amendments before Wednesday’s afternoon session and Lands assistant minister Bifwoli Wakoli suggested that the report be passed without further debate.

But MPs voted down that option and the Speaker subsequently allowed 30 minutes of more debate on the report tabled by Wajir West MP Adan Keynan, who is the chairman of the defence committee.

Mr Wetang’ula becomes the second minister to leave office within a week, with Mr William Ruto having been suspended on Wednesday last week over a fraud case.

He also becomes the sixth minister during President Kibaki’s two terms in office to be forced out of the Cabinet on corruption claims.

Dr Chris Murungaru, Mr David Mwiraria, Prof George Saitoti and Mr Kiraitu Murungi were the first to be asked to step aside from their ministerial positions in Internal Security, Finance, Education and Justice, respectively, when the Anglo Leasing scandal broke in 2004.

The suspensions of Dr Murungaru, Mr Mwiraria and Mr Murungi had been recommended by the Public Accounts Committee, which had also asked the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate them.

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