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Mwiraria: Meticulous minister felled by Anglo Leasing scandal

Friday April 14 2017

Former Finance minister David Mwiraria.

Former Finance minister David Mwiraria. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JOHN KAMAU
By JOHN KAMAU
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David Mwiraria did not strike one as a potential wheeler-dealer.

In his career as a civil servant, the Mwai Kibaki minister for Finance, who died Thursday, was always beyond reproach — until he touched the Anglo Leasing files and appended his signature to a document.

His goose was cooked — and he died trying to extricate himself.

Mwiraria was among the Cabinet ministers fingered by former permanent secretary for ethics John Githongo as having attempted to derail investigations into the Sh50 billion Anglo Leasing scandal, in which money had been wired to shadowy companies contracted in the closing days of the Daniel arap Moi presidency.

As the Finance minister — and perhaps in panic — Mwiraria had told the nation that no money was lost, claiming it had been wired back.

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“From where?” somebody asked, and the minister was economical with the truth since it touched on some of his lieutenants, people he trusted.

GREAT ECONOMIST

While he was forced out of the Cabinet and went into limbo as the case and ill health took a toll on him, Mwiraria has died with a fraud charge on his name — perhaps a sad end to a person who was known to be meticulous and hardworking during his days in the Moi government.

Most of the economic policies that saw the economy boom during the Kibaki years were spearheaded by Mwiraria, who oversaw the turnaround from the Nyayo era.

It is a feat no other Finance minister has managed and, for that, Mwiraria was in a class of his own.

The first African to become Kenya-Uganda Railways Golf Club chairman, the September 1938-born Mwiraria was known for his quasi-academic articles on statistics and economics and this endeared him to many.

He graduated with a master’s degree in statistics from Makerere University in 1966.

TRUSTED COLLEAGUE

That he was a member of Kibaki’s inner circle, the famous "Muthaiga Group", and was for years the PS in the vice-president’s office when Kibaki held that portfolio, it was natural that Mwiraria joined his former boss at the Democratic Party (DP) and easily won the North Imenti parliamentary seat in Meru County, dislodging then-powerful Kanu stalwart and long-serving minister Jackson Harvester Angaine.

When Kibaki was the leader of the Opposition, he picked Mwiraria as the shadow minister for Finance and he would always produce a parallel budget on what the government should do.

While he shone in that, his rise to Finance minister in Kibaki’s Narc government was mired in controversy as a result of the MoU politics and the Anglo Leasing scandal.

He was also part of the team that faced the wrath of the British High Commission in Nairobi as they tried to court the East by cancelling lucrative tenders that had been given to London.

He would occasionally clash with High Commissioner Edward Clay, he of the "they-are-vomiting-on-our-shoes" fame, and for a reason.

A few days after Kibaki left Nairobi Hospital, where he was being treated early in his presidency, then-British minister for Africa, Baroness Valerie Amos, visited.

She announced that the United Kingdom would resume full aid to Kenya once talks between Nairobi and international financial institutions were finalised.

MWIRARIA'S FALL
But Mwiraria, perhaps not willing to take dictation from London, met President Kibaki on March 14 with newly appointed Central Bank governor Andrew Mullei.

That evening, they cancelled a 10-year multibillion-shilling currency printing tender unilaterally awarded to British company Thomas De la Rue by previous CBK governor Nahashon Nyaga.

Mwiraria never survived the subsequent political witch-hunt, and some quarters still believe this was the genesis of his fall.

Others blame Mwiraria’s battles with Githongo, together with Cabinet ministers Kiraitu Murungi and Chris Murungaru, for his downfall.

Githongo had, apparently, said in his famous dossier that Mwiraria had said that “Anura Pereira is a strong supporter of President Kibaki”.

Pereira was the mastermind of the Anglo Leasing projects and had set up several shadowy companies, and Mwiraria painfully protested.

FRAUD CASE

Mwiraria also told Parliament that at no time did he tell Githongo that Nairobi businessman Jimmy Wanjigi wanted to kill the anti-graft czar.

“He chose to smear my name and that of the President,” said Mwiraria.

“It is not my nature to talk loosely. (He also pulled) another surprise that, during a workshop in Mombasa, I once told him that Mr Wanjigi was planning to kill him. Another untruth.”

It was his final statement that, perhaps, marks the nature of Mwiraria: “I open up myself to investigations. I did my best at the helm of the Ministry of Finance. Any mistakes I may have made were purely human; and for those, I apologise to this House and Kenyans.”

But he was unable to attend to the subsequent fraud case due to ill health.