Transport minister Amos Kimunya on Thursday failed to convince Parliament that his push to cancel the Sh56 billion contract for a new airport was done by the book.
Mr Kimunya was under siege from MPs for cancelling the contract yet its procurement had been cleared, not only by Attorney-General Githu Muigai, but also by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.
Mr Kimunya is not new to face-offs with MPs.
He was investigated and indicted by parliamentary committees, first over the secret sale of Grand Regency Hotel in July 2009. And, on August 1, this year, he was blamed for the cancellation of a multi-billion shilling money-printing contract for which the government lost Sh1.8 billion.
At the end of debate on the airport deal on Thursday, Speaker Kenneth Marende referred the matter to three House committees - Transport, Budget and Finance - to ensure that it is investigated fully.
The three committees have 14 days to find out what the problem is and ensure that the project remains on track. The Speaker said this was an “urgent matter” which touched on the country’s development and standing in the region as an investment hub.
“We have to move quickly, otherwise we’ll become irrelevant,” Mr Marende told MPs, noting that South Africa, Rwanda and Ethiopia all had plans to modernise their airports, to attract trade and investments.
It emerged that Mr Kimunya had ignored the advice of the Cabinet Committee on infrastructure, that of the AG, and the Office of the Prime Minister. MPs charged that the minister’s obstinacy had drawn complaints from President Kibaki’s office.
“In my opinion, it is in bad taste and disrespectful to the Cabinet to attempt to compel the managing director to undertake such action (cancellation of the contract) behind the Cabinet Committee and the Cabinet itself,” wrote Mr Francis Kimemia, acting Civil Service boss to the Kenya Airports Authority Board on July 27.
But Mr Kimunya maintained that the KAA board had met in February this year and resolved that the procurement process be stopped.
“The project cost had moved from the estimated maximum of $500 million to $653 million, and no approval had been sought from the board,” Mr Kimunya told MPs.
“So far, there’s no agreement with the contractor and since there are no signed contracts, we do not anticipate the government to incur any loss,” he said, insisting that the AG had written another letter with the opinion that the matter be referred to the Public Procurement Oversight Authority for the final word.
MPs Charles Keter (Belgut), John Mbadi (Gwassi), Adan Duale (Dujis), Mithika Linturi (Igembe South), Njoroge Baiya (Githunguri), Charles Kilonzo (Yatta), David Ngugi (Kinangop), Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem) cornered the minister.
They tabled the opinion of the AG, which warned of heavy payments to Anhui Construction if the contract was terminated.
Mr Keter said Mr Kimunya had packed the board with “directors from one region” who sat in July and pushed for the termination of the contract, but the managing director, Mr Stephen Gichuki, refused to sign those minutes.
The Belgut MP asked Mr Kimunya to declare whether he had links to another Chinese firm — China Construction Engineering Cooperation — and whether he knew a Mr James Gachoka, chairman of Appeals Board, and whether he had talked to him concerning this case.
Mr Kimunya replied: “I’d have no interest in a company owned by the Chinese Government. I don’t know them, I have not met them, unless the member has been sent by them to me, then he can give me further details on who they are and what they want. My relationship with Mr Gachoka is personal and not based on his work at the PPOA board.”
The minister said he was baffled by the speed with which the contract was awarded, the winning bidder notified and process of financing initiated. Efficiency is alien in government circles.
“The KAA fast-tracked the evaluation at a speed that has never been seen,” said Mr Kimunya.
But Mr Baiya posed: “We want to know why the minister has deemed the procurement process as being wrong merely because the process was fast-tracked?”
The Yatta MP noted: “The minister has become totally allergic to any advice from government institutions. We have shown you seven different letters saying that there is nothing wrong with the procurement, and it is only you, who is not a lawyer, who is giving advice which nobody seems to understand.”
Mr Linturi caused laughter in the House when he noted that Mr Kimunya is “always in a circle of controversy”.
Mr Kimunya said the whole controversy was because “corruption was fighting back”.