The Sh21 billion dams scandal took a political twist Thursday as a series of fightbacks and damage control attempts threatened to tear the ruling Jubilee Party right down the middle.
Deputy President William Ruto was the first to throw a spanner in the works when he questioned the amount suspected to have been lost in the scam. He said the Sh21 billion figure was a “fat lie”.
Even as Dr Ruto spoke, Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui was revealing that the Italian firm, CMC di Ravenna, which won tenders to build three dams in Kenya, is bankrupt and cannot even complete the Nakuru-based Itare dam.
On the ongoing investigation regarding payments related to the Arror and Kimwarer projects, Dr Ruto said the “money in question is about Sh7 billion”, and that “for every coin that has been paid, we have a bank guarantee”.
That, according to him, means not a single cent has been lost, and so the ongoing investigations by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations are misplaced. The DCI head, Mr George Kinoti, has put the figure under investigation at Sh21 billion.
A few hours after Dr Ruto spoke in Nairobi, President Kenyatta defended the investigators, saying “the DCI is on the right track on the war against corruption”.
“We are going to arrest people. Nobody will be spared,” the President said in Murang’a where Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu had asked him to go slow on the war against corruption.
And then Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich added more confusion to the evolving story about the scandal, saying media reports on the matter have been “devoid of facts and designed to mislead the public and tarnish the image of the government”.
Mr Rotich also distanced himself from the scandal, saying his ministry was only involved “after the process of project identification, prioritisation and procurement was completed by the then line ministry and the implementing agency”.
On Wednesday, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri also said he had nothing to do with the dams, even though the contracts for their construction were signed when he was in charge of the Devolution docket, the line ministry at the time.
Detectives are seeking to establish why due diligence on the contractor was done after the contract had been signed. They are also following the trail of money paid to the Italian contractor.
However, the admission by Mr Chelugui that the contractor is bankrupt and so cannot build the Sh63 billion Arror and Kimwarer dams, as well as the Sh28 billion Itare dam, was the climax of a day of confusion and buck-passing.
Mr Chelugui said CMC di Ravenna, which Treasury says was paid Sh7.8 billion for the yet-to-start dams in Elgeyo Marakwet, will now have to nominate another company to finish the job — without altering the initial costs.
Whether the alleged bankruptcy is the reason the projects have not started is not clear, even though Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said the projects have been held back by delays in the “process of compensation”.
Mr Chelugui was however categorical on the Itare project: “We know that CMC is financially bankrupt and has no capacity to proceed to finish the works, but we want to insulate ourselves as a client and ministry from total collapse.”
The DCI last week summoned the directors of 107 companies that were contracted to offer various services to the Italian firm.
Mr Kinoti ordered the directors to appear before detectives with all the relevant documents to show how they won the tenders, and to also bring along invoices, quotations and delivery notes related to the projects.
Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA), which was managing the projects, says Arror Dam was set to cost Sh38.5 billion while Kimwarer Dam in Keiyo South was to cost Sh28 billion.
Mr Murkomen said there was nothing wrong with how the projects have been managed, and that the current probe is aimed at sabotaging the developments.
“Someone is building a case for the termination of these dams,” Mr Murkomen said, adding that the Sh653 million set aside to compensate those affected by the project is still held by KVDA and will be transferred to the National Land Commission.
“No one should take advantage of this noble endeavour to argue for termination of the project.
"All projects in the republic have been delayed for the same reasons but eventually they commenced after the local leaders worked with the government to address the salient issues.”
Mr Murkomen also queried the investigators' motive. The fact that the DCI has been sharing every stage of investigations with the media indicated a scheme to ensure that the financier pulls out of the project, he said.
“Why have criminal investigations been commenced on a commercial contract that has its obligations spelt out in law and contract?” he posed, adding, the projects are on course.
The entry of Dr Ruto, Senator Murkomen and Mr Rotich into the fray appeared to bring a new dimension into the scandal, but failed to answer the question of whether any money was lost.
Mr Rotich is one of the ministers summoned by the DCI to shed light on the projects, which have not been started 14 months after the initial payment was done.