Inside VIP houses

Saturday January 13 2018

Vice President's house during the opening of the official residence of the Deputy President in Karen, Nairobi, November 15, 2012. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

Vice President's house during the opening of the official residence of the Deputy President in Karen, Nairobi, November 15, 2012. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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As you read this, some people have butterflies in their stomachs as they await the announcement on whether the house they have on offer will be picked as the official residence of the Nairobi County Speaker.

The city’s County Assembly is looking for a residence for its Speaker, currently Ms Beatrice Elachi. From the requirements in the tender document, the house will be a palace of sorts for the person in command of the capital’s legislative arm.

The residence, as per the tender papers, should be a five-bedroom house sitting on at least a half-an-acre of land, have two workers’ quarters and a guard house, have a reception area capable of holding 50 persons, have at least five parking slots among other requirements.

The rules further say the house should be located within the designated United Nations (UN) “blue zone”, be at least 200 metres from the main road, have a private gate and a paved driveway leading to it, have a television room, a library and a laundry room among others.

Tuesday was the last day for expressing interest to sell a house to the Assembly. Having a compound of at least half an acre guarantees the highest marks (25) as per the evaluation criteria whose total is 100 marks. Other individual areas of focus will earn bidders between one to five marks.

FIVE MARKS IF...

The applicant will get five marks if the house is in a designated UN blue zone (covering areas like High Ridge, Karen, Kileleshwa, Kitisuru, Loresho, Muthaiga, Muthangari, Spring Valley and Windsor) and another five if there is a perimeter wall with electric fencing. There will be five more marks awarded if there are no empty plots adjacent to the property, two marks if the compound is serviced with street lighting, one mark if there is a back-up generator, one if there are lawns and flower beds, among other areas of focus.

“A tender must score a pass mark of 80 per cent to qualify for financial evaluation,” the tender notice stated.

Should the assembly find the house it is looking for, the Nairobi Speaker’s official residence will be among the enviable VIP addresses in the city and across the country.

Bomet and Kwale are among other counties that have advertised such tenders before, in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The Kwale one is currently under construction, according to Speaker Sammy Ruwa.

In the Bomet case, the county assembly announced a tender to buy the Speaker’s residence. In the tender notice, the assembly had stated that the official residence for the Bomet Speaker must be at least four-bedroomed, have at least two servant quarters, be away from noisy places but not more than five kilometres from the Bomet central business district and at least a kilometre from the main highway. However, the purchase did not kick off following a dispute over budgeting.

MORE TENDERS LIKE THESE...

Kenyans should expect more such tenders for county assembly Speakers’ houses because a notice by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission had given counties up to June 30 to pay house allowances to Speakers. The heads of regional assemblies are currently entitled to a Sh150,000 monthly house allowance.

Trans Nzoia is among counties that have so far acquired official residences for their Speaker. The residence, located in Kitale’s Milimani and sitting on about an acre, was formerly owned by the local authority.

So, why are contractors of official residences often so particular about how and where the residence should be?

Mr Wycliffe Otieno, the director of Nairobi-based Wycky Construction and Designers, elaborated a number of items on the specifications for various VIP houses.

“It is advisable to have a wooden floor because for instance, Nairobi is cold. If you place ceramic tiles, that cold is not good with the body. And also, not everyone places a wall-to-wall carpet; so there is no need to buy expensive tiles then cover them with a wall-to-wall carpet,” he explained on the requirement that a house should preferably have wooden tiles.

Mr Otieno, who has been an interior designer since 2007, also pointed out that the requirement that the house be located next to other residences is for security.

“Rich people don’t trust the poor. For example at home, you must be scared driving at night if you are the only one with a vehicle if those who surround you don’t have vehicles. They will likely see you as the only moneyed person,” he said.

And Ms Stella Maina of Global Golding Properties, a firm in Nairobi that deals in real estate processes, sought to explain why VIPs like their residences away from the main road.

“A home is better suited away from the hustle of the city and major highways due to noise disturbance and for security,” she said.

“This explains why most gated communities in Nairobi are coming up along in the interiors of Mombasa Road and some in Kangundo Road,” added Ms Maina, whose company is currently organising the Africa Conference and Trade Fair.

As far as official dwellings are concerned, the State House — with its otherworldly furnishing, meticulously manicured lawns and top-notch security measures — could be the most known and coveted official residence.  However, there are other equally posh dwellings for various VIPs. Lifestyle takes a glance at some of the public servant residences in Kenya.

DEPUTY PRESIDENT

Viewed from afar, the brown roof and cream-painted walls of the residence of Kenya’s second-in-command give the impression of a mammoth learning institution.

Such is not a far-fetched perception because the place is designed to be not only a dwelling place but a workplace.

Located in Karen, the property that sits on a 10-acre plot cost taxpayers Sh238 million and was completed in 2011.

Among the features it boasts of are a main house, an office block, a comptroller’s unit, a guesthouse, staff quarters, a gym, a generator house and a circular swimming pool.

The office block has the DP’s office, a boardroom, press centre, interpreter’s room, lounge and caretaker’s office. The comptroller’s block has several offices, bedrooms and a study room.  The staff quarters consists of three buildings that have two and three-bedroom houses.

The DP’s residence is also capable of operating semi-autonomously as it has a security unit with an armoury whose walls are reinforced with steel, a roofed (pergola) walkway, a pump house, a water treatment plant, a borehole and low level-water tank. Attached to the main house is a parking bay that can hold several vehicles. It is at the building that the current occupant of the house, Mr William Ruto, has met with various delegations as he plays the country’s political chess. The first occupant was Nasa co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka.

PARLIAMENT SPEAKERS

Speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate are meant to enjoy the finest things Kenya has to offer, if the posh residences at their disposal are anything to go by.

The National Assembly Speaker is housed in Nairobi’s Thigiri Ridge Estate. The house was acquired in 2009 for Sh70 million and its first occupant was former Emuhaya MP Kenneth Marende.

The house that had been the Speaker’s official residence before 2009 — located along Muhuti Road near Bomas of Kenya — was converted into the Centre for Parliamentary Studies and Training.

The current Speaker, Mr Justin Muturi, stays at the Thigiri residence that was in the news in February 2017 when a home guard was shot in a scuffle within the compound. Mr Muturi was away at that time.

The Senate Speaker lives in a Sh150 million house in Karen that was bought in 2013. Its first occupant was former Turkana Central MP Ekwee Ethuro. It was bought from Mr Ali Shire Hussein, who had first asked for Sh200 million. The residence is a one-storey structure standing in the middle of a spacious compound. It has a 50-metre driveway leading to the parking bay next to the house. There are two houses for domestic staff located at the back of the main house.

The house has several entertainment rooms, a prayer room and two sunken living rooms that make it possible to host different audiences at the same time.

In early 2017, Parliament allocated Sh150 million for the refurbishment of the two Speakers’ buildings.

CHIEF JUSTICE

Had it not been for the controversy surrounding the purchase of the Chief Justice’s official residence, CJ David Maraga would have been the first occupant of the posh homestead that was bought for Sh310 million in 2013.

Located in Runda, the house stands amid leafy surroundings on a spacious compound with a swimming pool, a parking lot, a sentry room, a back-up generator, a gated driveway among other features.

The controversy around the purchase of the house, originally owned by former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama, could soon be forgotten.

This is because in December, the then Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko applied to withdraw charges of obtaining the house corruptly that were facing Uasin Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Shollei and other judiciary officers.

Mr Tobiko’s application followed a decision by the Court of Appeal that cases instituted by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission between May 2015 and June 2016 were defective because the agency had no commissioners.

CBK GOVERNOR

The Central Bank of Kenya boss has at his disposal a house in Muthaiga neighbouring the private residence of former president Mwai Kibaki and the official residences of the US ambassador and the British High Commissioner.

Sitting on two acres, the spaciousness of the residence will give the CBK governor ample room to hold parties and official receptions, with its lawns a marvel and the exclusivity of its location a dream for many city dwellers.

However, the current CBK governor, Dr Patrick Njoroge, opted not to make the palatial residence his home, instead choosing to live  in Loresho estate with his fellow members of Opus Dei.

Dr Njoroge is not the first to stay away from the CBK governor’s official residence. His predecessors Eric Kotut, Nahason Nyaga and Andrew Mullei also did not take it up, but CBK has always been maintaining it. Most of the time, the people who have been living at the residence are domestic staff and gardeners.

COUNTY GOVERNORS

You cannot discuss official residences of county governors without mentioning the castle currently occupied by Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi.  The beachfront house, about 100 metres from the Indian Ocean shore, is located near the Kilifi Old Ferry.

It was bought in 2014 for Sh140 million. Seven individuals had offered to sell an official residence for the county governor. The house is built on a three-acre plot, has five bedrooms, a large swimming pool, a conference room, a modern kitchen and a furnished office for holding meetings. There is also a three-bedroom servant quarters.

In the true fashion of a beachfront house, there is a tunnel connecting the governor’s compound and the ocean. The tunnel makes it possible for visitors to access the house by a vessel through the Indian Ocean. They can anchor their vessel and use the tunnel to move into the residence.

“The house is spacious and has a conference room where the governor can meet his cabinet and can host up to 20 people. This can cut the cost for hiring a hall,” the Kilifi County Assembly Investment Committee chairman Duncan Kaingu, said in 2014.

Elsewhere, Vihiga County Assembly in December 2017 set aside Sh80 million for the construction of its governor’s official residence. It is to be constructed on the outskirts of Mbale Town, the county’s headquarters, and it is expected to be ready by 2019. However, there is a dispute over its exact location that has delayed the construction.

The current governor, Dr Wilber Ottichilo, has previously said he needed an official residence to enable him conduct official matters away from his private address.

“My private home has to remain private. I need an official residence where I can conduct public issues and meet people,” said Dr Ottichilo.

And in Meru County, Governor Kiraitu Murungi could be the first occupant of the official residence of the devolved unit. The county government has budgeted Sh40 million for constructing the governor’s official residence, as indicated in its revised annual development plan for the 2017/18 academic year. The same amount will go into building the Speaker’s house. The residence for the deputy governor will cost Sh30 million.