Family deep in Ngilu’s troubled waters

Saturday November 20 2010

Water and Irrigation minister Charity Ngilu makes her presentation over corruption allegations in her Ministry to The House Committee on Lands and Natural Resources at Parliament Buildings November 11, 2010. HEZRON NJOROGE

Water and Irrigation minister Charity Ngilu makes her presentation over corruption allegations in her Ministry to The House Committee on Lands and Natural Resources at Parliament Buildings November 11, 2010. HEZRON NJOROGE 

By SAMWEL SIRINGI ssiring[email protected]

At least four of the companies under investigation for corruption at the Water ministry are owned by relatives of Cabinet minister Charity Ngilu, according to government records.

In what will likely thrust the Water minister further into the spotlight of questionable ministry deals, four of Mrs Ngilu’s relatives own companies that took up contracts that have been questioned in ongoing corruption allegations at Maji House.

According to government records, the relative of an assistant minister is also a director in one of the companies that have been linked to the questionable contracts with the ministry.

Although the relatives and their companies may well be qualified to offer the goods and services for which they were awarded the contracts, the finding is sure to raise questions of nepotism, favouritism and conflict of interest – all of which are corruption offences under the Public Officer Ethics Act and Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act.

Among Mrs Ngilu’s relatives listed as directors of the companies are a daughter, a son-in-law, a brother and a cousin.

Also owning one of the companies that has been cited in several water contracts is the former managing director of the Tanathi Joseph Mutuku Nzesya.

Mwende Ketethia Mwendwa, Mrs Ngilu’s second-born daughter, is listed as the director of Kat Michaels Consulting Limited. The company was registered in May 2008.

Shut down

The website of the company was shut down on November 9, 2010, just as the exchanges between Mrs Ngilu and her former assistant minister Mwangi Kiunjuri were heating up.

The other director of the company is Caroline Mueni Kala. The company won a Sh1.3 million tender to supply polo shirts, caps, executive pens, carrier bags and ties to Tanathi Water Services Board.

It also won a tender to supply “big” and “small” diaries at unit costs of Sh2,500 and Sh1,500 respectively for a total of Sh800,000.

Billy Indeche, the husband of the minister’s first-born daughter Lunde Jemi Mwendwa, is a director of Broad Vision Utilities Limited, a company registered in April 2008, which has also been cited as one of those doing business with Tanathi.

ODM link

Other directors of the company include Mr Apaa Denis and businessman Michael Njeru, who is associated with the top ODM leadership. Mrs Ngilu’s brother Ngotho Kasyoki Itumbuthi is a director of the Timetrax Limited, a company he registered in August 2008.

Mr Itumbuthi previously worked for a cement company as a purchasing officer and has unsuccessfully vied for the Mbooni seat in 2002 and 2007. The other director of the company is Ms Pauline Mene Munguti, a cousin of Mrs Ngilu.

The company won a Sh1.5 million tender last year to supply GI pipes at a unit price of Sh23,815 for 65 pieces. It also did some other unspecified business for Sh493,000. Mrs Ngilu did not respond to repeated calls from the Sunday Nation on Saturday.

But people close to the minister called the newsroom trying to find out contents of the story after the Sunday Nation sent short text messages to Mrs Ngilu.

The SMS message to Mrs Ngilu read: “We are doing a story on procurement issues in your ministry. Specifically, we wish to know if you were aware that some of the firms that won tenders were owned by your relatives. Kindly let us know as we plan to run the story tomorrow (today).”

The one to the assistant minister read: “We are doing a story a story on procurement issues in the Water ministry. Specifically, we wish to know if you are aware that your relative Apaa Dennis is a director of one of the firms that won controversial tenders. Kindly let us know as we plan to run the story tomorrow.”

No response

But the two had not responded to our enquiries by the time we went to press. According to details in government records, Mr Nzesya, the suspended Tanathi CEO, is listed as the proprietor of own-owned Taru General Engineering company.

Although he was an official of Tanathi, his company won a tender for the supply and installation of high lift pumps at a pump station “near no. 1 at Kima” for a cost of Sh 3.8 million.

It also was paid Sh2 million for a contract not specified. A firm that was not stated, situated in Syokmau, but believed to be among those in question, was paid Sh9.8 million to supply pipes.

Missing records

But the Sunday Nation failed to trace records of some of the companies that have been adversely mentioned in the Water ministry tenders.

They include G.L. Williams, Nthenca Enterprises, Surf Ways and Afri Trade Enterprises. Absence of the companies’ records could point to the fact that their documentation had been tempered with and files lost.

On Saturday, Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission spokesman Nicholas Simani said investigations into the allegations of corruption in the Water ministry had been heightened.

He said former Water assistant minister Mwangi Kiunjuri who blew the whistle on the allegations had provided useful documents regarding the scandal.

“We are also asking Mrs Ngilu to present to us any documents she has that may help us,” he said. But Mr Simani could not provide details on the current status of the investigations.

But the Sunday Nation independently established that the commission was investigating likely offences that could be supported under the Public Officer Ethics Act and the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act.

Claims of corruption in the Water ministry were first raised by Mr Kiunjuri, now Public Works assistant minister, last month.

He said the award of contracts was not transparent and could have led to huge losses of public money. Mr Kiunjuri also claimed there was nepotism in the award of tenders.

Mr Kiunjuri said up to eight companies and a non-governmental organisation that had close links with Ms Ngilu had done business with the ministry.

Shed light

“Could the minister shed some light on what association, family or otherwise, that she might have with the companies,” Mr Kiunjuri said.

He named Timetrax, Surf Ways, Nthenca Enterprises, Broad Vision, Kat Michaels, Taru General, G.L. Williams, Secon and KICEDI, a non-governmental organisation.

He claimed some of these companies had been adversely mentioned in the Water Services and Regulation Authority report.

Also, Mr Kiunjuri said, some of these companies had been supplying goods to the National Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation.

Other companies that have been at the centre of the controversy include sole proprietorships Arcolyte Office Supplies that is owned by Mutisya Wambua and Olepo Agencies belonging to Phelisters Ayoti.

The National Water Conservation and Pipeline paid up to 328 per cent on average to a single bidder above prices that other bidders were quoting for similar equipment according to documents in possession of the Sunday Nation.

For instance, the corporation awarded the supply of water metres for the Brightlight borehole project in Kisumu district to Arcolyte Office Supplies at an inflated price of Sh39,200.

The same water metres were quoted by Epcan at Sh22,000 while another firm Brivy was willing to supply at Sh6,000. But Mrs Ngilu stood her ground and denied ever engaging in corruption at her ministry.

She instead accused Mr Kiunjuri of using his position in the ministry to front for business for companies owned by his friends.

The minister also defended her decision to drill boreholes in drought-hit Ukambani, a region she said has been historically neglected.

“I want to state here very clearly: If I will lose my job because I’ve given to people who deserve water so much, so be it. I’ll be ready to do so, “ she said.

Mrs Ngilu received support from Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who however said he only defended performing ministers and not corruption.