Top Foreign Affairs ministry officials ignored land offered by Japan at the request of President Kibaki that could have saved the country loss of Sh1.1 billion.
Parliament’s Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations discovered that President Kibaki had requested Japan to provide a suitable land in which Kenya could erect its chancery and ambassador’s residence.
He made the request when he met Japan’s member of the House of Councillors, senator Tetsuro Yano, in July 2008. According to the committee’s report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, there were “long negotiations with the government of Japan with presidential intervention during a meeting with senator Yano”.
President Kibaki’s intervention led to the government of Japan providing a plot in a place called Minato Ku. Foreign Affairs ministry did not consider the plot but instead went to buy new property.
Cabinet minister Moses Wetang’ula told the committee they could not consider the plot offered by the Government of Japan because it was “irregularly shaped rendering it unsuitable for construction of a chancery and an ambassador’s residence”.
The committee said Mr Wetangula’s explanation differed with that given by an architect who advised that the plot allowed more floor space and a tall structure whose offices could be rented to other diplomatic missions.
The minister also said there was a caveat on the land that allowed the Government of Japan to, at any time, excavate for archaeological materials.
The team faulted the ministry and called the rejection of the land identified by Japan an embarrassment to President Kibaki “considering the long diplomatic negotiations (over 18 months) by the mission through the ministry of foreign affairs of Japan and the political intervention of President Kibaki.”
The team said the government lost close to Sh1.1 billion in the transaction and proposed that measures be instituted to recover the money. It also called on the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the deal — a move already requested by Mr Wetang’ula.
The team concluded the property bought in Tokyo was not suitable as it “does not reflect Kenya’s strategic importance and stature in regional and international diplomacy”.
It proposed that the chancery move to the plot the Government of Japan offered. The mission can then build a modern multi-storey building for a chancery, ambassador’s home, staff houses and lease space to other African states.
The team said “there was deliberate disregard of professional advice given by professionals within and outside of government”. It established that there was no valuation done by a Japanese firm on the property before it was bought, as is the practice in buying property.
“Use of a professional Japanese valuation firm could have given the ministry the right price for the property and therefore value for money.” By the time the property was bought, the MPs report said, land prices in Japan were on the downward trend following the world financial crisis that began in 2008.
They also raised questions as to why payments were made before the property was transferred to the government of Kenya.
Some 85 per cent of the payment was effected before the transfer of the property.
The committees said it was “amazed” to discover that two different government officers had signed two different sale agreements on the same property, on the same day.
One was signed by the head of mission, Kenya embassy in Japan, Mr Allan Mburu, while the other was signed by PS Thuita Mwangi. Mr Mwangi, the team observed, was never in Japan on the day he was said to have signed the agreement.
“Involvement of the Ministry (of Works) could have guided in determining the suitability of the structures and consequently the price,” it said.
The team called for punitive measures against Mr Wetang’ula, Mr Mwangi and Mr Mburu and any officer involved in the deal. It recommended that the Foreign Affairs ministry urgently put a strategic plan on property acquisition and disposal.
It should also explore the option of purchasing floors in safe and suitable already-built up buildings as was the case with some western countries instead plots or stand-alone buildings.
This, the report said, will save funds in constructing or purchasing stand-alone structures. It calls for an audit to ensure that property for Kenya missions abroad is legally acquired and owned.
The team proposed that Mr Wetang’ula takes political responsibility and step aside to pave the way for investigations by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission. If found guilty, the minister should be barred from holding any State office in Kenya.