A newspaper is like an old man’s house. There are little-visited nooks and crannies full of interesting and valuable things.
For example, I was bored in a powerful man’s office this week, so I opened his safe and was riffling through some of our secrets. I came upon yellowing spring file written, in the unmistakable hand of a short friend of mine, simply “NSSF”.
I had just read stories and a letter from a Hon S.K. Jirongo, writing on behalf of Sololo Outlets Ltd, giving the National Social Security Fund seven days to hand over Hazina estate in South B, Nairobi after which he would pay back all the money he has received from NSSF, amounting to some Sh1.39 billion.
For those of you who were not born in 1992, Sololo Outlets entered into a deal to develop Hazina for NSSF at a total cost of Sh1.2 billion. It did not finish the job and the job was completed by another contractor. A month ago, NSSF paid Sololo Sh490 million after arbitration.
So when I saw the old file, I just sat down to flip through. The first document was board minutes on the final accounts for 1991. The fund was reporting a decline in income and an expansion in costs of 108 per cent.
There is a cock-and-bull story to explain this. Then there is a series of requests for placement of funds by various banks, all offering an average 17 per cent interest.
Then there is a payment voucher for Postbank Credit for Sh300 million. The bank was arranging the purchase of Sololo Outlets’ Hazina development.
Next is an internal memo, dated 28th September 1992, by then Kenya Medical Research Institute boss and Mr Jirongo’s co-director in Sololo, Dr Davy Koech, to the staff of Kemri, titled “Misleading Press Reports”.
He swears that he only does “clean deals”, that he has no time to spend on dirty deals because he is busy doing science and concludes rather dramatically: “Be it known therefore that I am struggling like yourselves to have ends meet and I am not multi-millionaire as the distorted press reports would like to portray.”
After that there is a May 13, 1991, Sololo proposal for Hazina addressed to Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of Public Service.
In it, Sololo offers the government a housing complex made up of “420 uniquely designed units” described as having “all conveniences” “a broad spectrum of commercial and social facilities such as a recreational centre to satisfy all needs, a health centre, a nursery school which can easily extend to a primary school and a shopping centre”.
Sololo additionally writes to Mr J. T. arap Leting, the Head of Public Service, asking him to approach HFCK, National Housing Corporation or NSSF to participate in its housing project.
Mr Leting writes to NSSF “recommending” that they get into discussions with Sololo with a view to buying the estate.
A statement of account of Cyperr Projects International Ltd is the next interesting document. It is stamped “Secret”, a red rag for any journalist.
Accompanying the statement is a memo titled “Explanatory Notes”. The memo says the Cyperr account was opened on July 2, 1992 “with no deposits”. On the same day, Sh1.5 million was withdrawn. A cash deposit of Sh20,000 was “made probably from the same withdrawal”.
“No other deposit was ever made but accounts manipulated by withdrawals and reversals to appear as if there were also deposits but not,” said the memo.
By September 3, 1992, the account was overdrawn by Sh232 million. The following day, money from NSSF was paid in and a general manager instructed that Sh100 million be deposited in the account to reduce the liability to Sh132 million.
The same day, Sololo transferred Sh105 million to the Cyperr account, reducing the exposure to Sh48 million.
Then a riot of withdrawals followed and the memo writer says “the amount so far withdrawn is Sh259 million”. “If the money from NSSF and the transfer from Sololo is withdrawn, the total will be over Sh400 million”.
The fellow, who sounds like a frightened accountant adds “it should be noted that all the money was collected in cash almost on a daily basis on amounts (sic) ranging from Sh3 million and Sh25 million”.
He concludes that “the share capital is Sh50 million and this should not have been exceed without special authority from the Central Bank and Treasury”.
Mr Mathiu is managing editor, Daily Nation. (firstname.lastname@example.org)