I followed the live broadcasts of last week’s Senate hearings into the abortive impeachment of Governor Anne Waiguru very keenly. What I heard there were ripping tales about how procurement activities of the Kirinyaga County government had been captured by a corruption ring under the control of a tightly knit network. What struck me was its level of organisation, coordination and ruthlessness.
We heard how this corruption ring had so captured the activities of the county government that it was now capable of tightly controlling literally all the stages of its procurement process. From the point when the budget for procurement is planned and written, preparation of bidding documents, the timing of floatation of tenders, the tender evaluation process and, finally, the award of the tender, the corrupt network maintained a tight stranglehold on the office.
To achieve total control of the tender evaluation process, the corruption ring would make sure that chairmanship of this critical committee was at all times in the hands and control of a member of the network.
Ms Waiguru did not commit impeachable crimes. Indeed, the Senate concluded that her conduct did not rise to the level and threshold to justify the overturning of her election. But what her accusers managed to prove without a doubt is that the Kirinyaga government’s procurement department is a cesspool of corruption.
My many years of reporting corruption in procurement in the public sector have shown me how to look for the tell-tale signs of a regime riven by corruption. First, where a state has been captured by a well co-ordinated corruption ring, as happened in Kirinyaga, you will find that membership of tender evaluation committees will always be dominated by cronies and appointees of either the minister, principal secretary or governor.
We were told sensational stories about how a tiny clique sat in nearly all tender evaluation committees. We heard that in most cases, the director of administration, one Pauline Kamau, chaired the most important tender evaluation committees. Evidence was also adduced to prove that Ms Kamau is very close to Governor Waiguru.
The County Service Board chairman testified how the governor had coerced the board into appointing Kamau to the lofty position despite her not being qualified for it. Clearly, her rise and elevation to being one the most influential players in procurement was no accident.
There is yet another tell-tale sign of a corruption-riven procurement I have learnt on the beat. Invariably, you will find that the majority of companies winning tenders will have several things in common. First, many will be entities incorporated hurriedly just months before the tender was floated — suggesting that they are mere special purpose vehicles targeting to take advantage of some quick and dirty tender(s).
Most of the companies that win these dodgy tenders have no internet presence, have low turnover and find it difficult to produce books of account. In most cases, their bank accounts will have had zero balances before they popped out to compete for the tender.
And ‘tenderpreneurs’ are very careless when it comes to choosing company names. In the NYS scandal, the companies that were found to have received billions of shillings from the state agency were hurriedly incorporated special purpose vehicles with funny names like Jerry Carthy Ltd, Calabash Investments, AnnAnwaw Investments and Firstlings Suppliers Ltd.
In the Kirinyaga case, one of the major contentious issues coming out of the impeachment proceedings was whether the correct name of one of the companies contracted by the county government to implement a multi-million-shilling ICT project was “Velocity” or “Velocty”. You may dismiss the issue as a mere typo but, the next time you come across a company with names that have neither rhyme nor reason, know that something is dodgy somewhere.
The politically connected ‘tenderpreneur’ of today has little regard and time for formal processes, such as proper incorporation of companies. And I keep wondering whether these dodgy companies pay taxes. For instance, between “Velocity” and “Velocty”, which of them paid taxes on the millions they received from Kirinyaga County?
The Senate has directed that corruption in Kirinyaga County’s procurement department be investigated. It will require investigators who are skilled enough to follow the money trail all the way to nominee accounts, lawyers’ client accounts and property transactions — all avenues for the corrupt to hide their loot.
Investigating corruption under circumstances where you have a well-coordinated network of public officials who share risks and rewards and have friends in high places is no easy task. Involving entities such as the Financial Reporting Centre and the Asset Recovery Agency may prove useful.