‘Yes man’ Rotich battles ghosts of Sh63bn scandal

Wednesday March 18 2020
By PAUL WAFULA

Their dreams came tumbling in 2019, a year that destroyed the highest number of top public servants’ careers in the Jubilee administration.

For suspended Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and his Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge, it is a year they would wish to quickly forget.

MONEY MAN

The splash of pictures of the two economists in newspapers at home and abroad sent the biggest signal to the world that Kenya was serious in the fight against corruption.

But it was an embarrassment, given that it is the two who criss-crossed the world weeks earlier to borrow billions of shillings in a third Eurobond, promising investors that the country would use the money well.

They are the highest-ranking public servants to fall in the purge that has defined President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second and final term.

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Investigative teams waited for the pair to finalise this year’s budget that increased their allocations to fight corruption, table it in Parliament and read the statement before pouncing.

Before he became the top money man in the Jubilee government, Mr Rotich was a low profile economist at the Treasury.

He shot into the public limelight in April 2013.

SIDESTEPPED

Mr Kenyatta may have spotted him during his time at the Treasury where he saw a promising finance boss, given his experience in budget-making and leadership of the macroeconomics department.

The President sidestepped senior economists to elevate Mr Rotich.

The minister would do everything to make his boss happy. Unfortunately, he has left the country dangerously addicted to debt.

His Waterloo was the multibillion-shilling Kimwarer and Arror dams scandal that saw him interrogated by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, after which he was forced out of office to fight and clear his name.

Ironically, the dam project is in his Elgeyo-Marakwet county.

BAGGAGE

Mr Rotich was charged alongside Dr Thugge, a principal secretary who only spoke when it mattered.

When the scandal broke, no one could guess that Dr Thugge, an American-educated economist, would be on the list of suspects when investigations were complete.

The charges he faces include a conspiracy to defraud the public, engaging in a project without prior planning, abuse of office, wilful failure to comply with the law applying to public finance management and committing an offence of financial misconduct.

Dr Thugge became the accounting officer in 2013 when his boss at the time – Joseph Kinyua – was made the President’s chief of staff.

Before 2019, Mr Rotich had no corruption baggage from his past life.

BORROWING

He is not from the privileged class having attended ordinary public schools in Elgeyo-Marakwet.

The two were seen as a safe pair of hands and their appointment calmed nerves in the ruling coalition.

Mr Rotich inherited a ministry that had worked hard to remove Kenya from a list of countries that would crash without budget support.

In under six years, Kenya has borrowed so much that it cannot meet its expenditure needs without asking for and taking more loans.

He took charge when public debt was at Sh1.7 trillion. Mr Rotich has grown it in the last five years to Sh5.1 trillion.

This is an increase of Sh3.4 trillion and translates to a borrowing of Sh600 billion every year or Sh50 billion a month, the fastest accumulation of debt in Kenya’s history.

His predecessors were also borrowing but not to Mr Rotich’s scale.

GREATNESS

When he took office, Mr Njeru Githae was borrowing about Sh115 billion every year. At Sh600 billion, Mr Rotich borrowed at a rate five times Mr Githae’s!

It is said Mr Rotich was not an ordinary student as he did not struggle to post good grades at school.

His performance from primary school showed a student cut for greatness.

He was always top of his class at Fluorspar Primary School, Keiyo South, where he started his education.

He then proceeded to St Joseph’s High School.

RETREATED

Though being a “yes” man has always worked for Mr Rotich, it could also be the train that is going to haunt him as he attempts to exorcise the ghosts of the Sh63 billion dam scandal.

Like Dr Thugge, he is accused of conspiracy to defraud the State, engaging in a project without prior planning, abuse of office, wilful failure to comply with the public finance management law and committing an offence of financial misconduct.

Since the scandal broke, Mr Rotich has retreated from the limelight.

He on many occasions is in his rural home in Elgeyo-Marakwet.

One of the last times Mr Rotich was photographed was when he left the cold benches of a Nairobi courtroom, a lonely man.

SH15 MILLION

On that day, he was released on a Sh15 million bail.

Will 2020 be the year the two walk free and bring smiles back to their families? Or will it be the year they are hauled to prison?