Monday, November 15, 2010

Kenya's military bosses fail to answer query on jets

Stephen Mudiari | NATION Vice Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Julius Karangi and Assistant Minister David Musila, Defence Minister Yusuf Hajji (second right) and Assistant Minister Joseph Nkaissery at Continental House, Nairobi, on Monday, where the Parliamentary Committee on Defence questioned them over corruption allegations in the military.

Stephen Mudiari | NATION Vice Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Julius Karangi and Assistant Minister David Musila, Defence Minister Yusuf Hajji (second right) and Assistant Minister Joseph Nkaissery at Continental House, Nairobi, on Monday, where the Parliamentary Committee on Defence questioned them over corruption allegations in the military. 

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU [email protected]

Kenya's military bosses for the first time ever, on Monday, appeared before a parliamentary committee to answer questions on recruitment and purchases of fighter jets and armoured personnel carriers.

However the most sensitive item on the agenda, a controversy over the purchase of used Air Force jets from Jordan, was not answered even after the meeting went into camera.

Vice Chief of General Staff Lieutenant Gen Karangi led a team of military officers to an afternoon meeting with Parliament’s Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations at Nairobi’s Continental House.

The military brass were accompanied by Defence minister Yusuf Haji, his two assistant ministers Joseph Nkaissery and David Musila, and Permanent Secretary Nancy Kirui.

The open session concentrated on the controversy of a young woman turned away from the military academy allegedly because she was pregnant even though she had passed all the tests the previous day.

It was a rare appearance for the normally secretive military when the Vice Chief of General Staff, accompanied by two military doctors, fielded questions from the MPs.

The most explosive issue the team was to tackle were allegations of procurement irregularities in a transaction that saw the government buy 15 F-5 military airplanes from the government of Jordan.

Such has been the secrecy surrounding the controversial purchase of F-5 from Jordan that even yesterday’s proceedings on the subject had to be heard in camera, with journalists ordered out of proceedings in the name of protecting ‘national security’.

The 15 second-hand jets were purchased at a cost of $450,000 (Sh36,225,000 at current exchange rates) each. They went through a communications upgrade and were painted in Kenya colours.

There have been questions over the cost of the upgrade and the fact that the jets were dismantled and moved to Kenya in kit form for assembly locally instead of being flown from Jordan.

There have also been claims that on assembly locally, the jets have not been able to fly.

Before the meeting with MPs, Lt Gen Karangi had said his team had asked the session to be held in the open for the military to shed light on the controversy surrounding the expulsion of Ms Gladys Jepkechei Tarus from the military training school.

When that matter was heard, however, the session went into camera to discuss the procurement issues.

However, the Nation learnt that even that was not discussed because the military bosses said they were not ready.

The military had previously dismissed critics saying that the manner in which the jets were transported was not only practical but also in line with best practice.

After the media left the committee room, the discussion on the jet fighters and that on the tendering for the supply of armoured cars was rescheduled for Thursday.

It is said, the military top brass had come to Parliament’s Committee meeting only prepared to discuss the recruitment controversy.

On Monday, Lt Gen Karangi was joined by top military doctors in insisting that Ms Tarus was pregnant when the tests were carried out at the Eldoret military recruit training school.

Also present at the meeting was the chief of personnel, Brigadier Gordon Kihalangwa.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Christopher Arrum, and the gynaecologist who oversaw the tests on Ms Tarus, Lt Col Edward Osewe, said the military’s two tests were positive that she was pregnant.

The military doctors dismissed four reports which Ms Tarus filed showing that she was negative, saying they were “just pieces of paper” and that they did not witness the tests.

Lt Col Osewe said they tested the hormone levels in Ms Tarus’ urine and “the levels showed that a pregnancy was forming.”

He said hormones in blood may not be picked in the early stages, but that in Ms Tarus’ case, “the levels were high enough that the doctors were able to pick.”

He dismissed claims that Ms Tarus was menstruating: “The fact that the lady was bleeding, in science, could be menses or it could be a sign of a failing pregnancy.”

Lt Col Osewe said that the fact that their tests showed her as being pregnant “it was reason enough not to take her.”

“The way we do it in the military is that we want the fit of the fittest,” he said.

There was a brief exchange between the MPs and the doctors with the MPs saying that it was impossible to detect a rise in hormone levels given the time-frame of three weeks within which Ms Tarus was recruited and when she reported to the training school in Eldoret.

But Lt Col Osewe, a gynaecologist who has been in the military for seven years, replied: “In science, if a lady ovulates and the eggs are fertilised, a change in the hormone levels may not be detected until the zygote is implanted in the uterus. As the cells split the hormone levels begin increasing and they can be detected.”

In case of an abortion, the doctors said, traces of hormones will remain in the blood for up to three weeks.

With that, the military doctors told the committee that they will send a full medical report on their investigations on Ms Tarus.

Other medical grounds upon which recruits were dismissed, the committee was told, include colour blindness, dental health, hernia and incomplete testicles.

“Gladys was not unfairly disqualified, nor was her case in isolation,” said Mr Haji.

As a policy, there’s no room for appeal once one is disqualified.

Also, the military team denied that there were replacements for those who did not make it into the military school.

“The policy of the military is to have no replacement. If we allowed replacements, it means I can come with my people and replace recruits who qualify even on flimsy grounds,” said Mr Nkaissery, a retired general who was in charge of training in his military days.

There had been claims that Ms Tarus’ position was taken up by a person who had paid Sh300,000, but on Monday, the Defence minister said that ought to have been reported to the police.

Ten other recruits were disqualified for carrying fake identity card documents and their cases have been forwarded to the police. One recruit, the officers said, had obtained an ID in Nairobi within a day of failing to land a slot in Gucha.

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