Tuesday was yet another day of going home empty-handed for thousands of businesspeople owed Sh6.2 billion by the Prisons Department as they were teargassed by police in Nairobi and blocked from getting audience with government officials.
The traders claim to have supplied various goods that were used by prisons all over Kenya between 2009 and June 2018.
The government has withheld billions of shillings owed to thousands of suppliers since 2018 citing irregularities.
The Correctional Services Department had at some point vowed not to pay the pending bills.
Drawn from different regions of the country, they assembled early at Nairobi’s Teleposta Towers (GPO), determined to get audience with Zainabu Hussein, the Principal Secretary in the State Department for Correctional Services.
Their plan went up in smoke shortly after 8.30 am. As their numbers grew, they were ordered to leave and police lobbed teargas at the fast-swelling crowd.
Some reconvened a few metres away and began shouting, demanding that they be paid.
Two more teargas canisters were thrown at the new crowd and they swiftly left the GPO precincts.
The group later addressed journalists at Uhuru Park where they criticised the move by the Interior Ministry to deny them payment for items supplied.
At the centre of the dispute is an audit report that pointed to suspected collusion between rogue suppliers and employees at the Department of Correctional Facilities and Kenya Prisons.
The audit showed that some corrupt staff had paid suppliers who did not have credit letters, inspection or acceptance certificates.
NO LEGAL BACKING
Ms Hussein insists the transactions the traders are referring to were “irregular” and “illegal”.
In a press statement she issued last week, the PS said that payment being claimed by the suppliers had been found to lack legal backing as discovered by auditors.
She said two rounds of audit had been done with regard to the supplies and they returned the same verdict -- that the deals involving the over 2,900 complainants lacked probity.
“In a bid to commence the settlement of these outstanding claims, the Department wrote to the National Treasury on November 1, 2018, requesting for a team of auditors to verify the claims. The National Treasury commissioned a team of 40 auditors who took 60 days to scrutinise and review all the outstanding claims,” stated Ms Hussein.
“The findings of the National Treasury auditors was that all outstanding claims were irregular and some were illegal and therefore the team could not recommend any for payment,” she noted.
The PS added that a further round of audit involving the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the State Law Office and the National Treasury also came to the conclusion that the suppliers did not deserve any pay, given that they did not meet a set of 10 criteria.
“The committee’s findings was that none of the bills met the ten-point criteria and therefore recommended that the department could not settle any of these claims,” stated Mrs Hussein.
But the traders fault that position. First of all, they told journalists, they were not involved in the audit process.
“The department claims to have been communicating with the affected parties. There is no time the department communicated in writing to any one of the 2,900 suppliers on the list of pending bills,” they said in a statement signed by their chairman Thomas Sibwoga and secretary Athony Munyi.
The traders, under the umbrella of Kenya Prison Suppliers, noted that they had been providing various items to the Prisons department through credit notes and not local purchase orders as is standard procedure in government procurement.
This, they said, was because the Prisons’ department was receiving low funding.
Due to the cash issue, the traders thus considered the notes to be sufficient evidence of a contract.
“The department decided to develop the so-called credit notes to act as a form of surety/commitment in order to convince suppliers and contractors to continue providing services and goods. The credit notes have been in existence over the years since 2009 until mid-2018. For the credit notes to be accepted, they should be authorised by the station commander, who is the officer-in-charge,” they stated.
They noted that because of the procedures of issuing the credit, and given that officers in charge of prisons okayed the deals, none of the traders felt that they were afoul of the law by supplying items.
The traders said they were shocked to find that there is a 10-point criteria set to probe their dealings with the Prisons department.
“Is introducing the 10-point criteria at the payment stage legal?” they questioned.
“Was it not supposed to be incorporated in the prequalification stage?”
The pending bills to the Prisons department have been a burning issue for a while, drawing the attention of the President, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, among others.
Dr Matiang’i said at an event in Nairobi on Monday that some of the pending deals were dubious, citing a Sh65 million bill for stationery.
“When I look at pending bill from Prisons department indicating that one supplier supplied stationery worth Sh65 million in two years, what would the inmates have been writing and using stationery for?” he questioned.
The suppliers now accuse Dr Matiang’i of hoodwinking them that they would be paid in a meeting he had with them in December 2019.
They have threatened to stop all supplies to Kenyan prisons and thus cripple operations at correctional facilities.