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Ministers blame former Cabinet for dams scandal

Thursday February 28 2019

dams scandal.

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri. He has distanced himself from the dams scandal. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

 NYAMBEGA GISESA
By NYAMBEGA GISESA
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STELLA CHERONO
By STELLA CHERONO
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JOHN KAMAU
By JOHN KAMAU
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As detectives moved in yesterday to interrogate officials of Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) on two phantom dam projects that have cost the taxpayer Sh21 billion so far, two Cabinet secretaries, whose ministries are embroiled in the saga, were busy pointing accusing fingers at their predecessors as the blame game and Cabinet fallout began in earnest.

The “it wasn’t me” finger-pointing began the day it emerged that the Italian firm contracted to build the two dams used Sh15 million on food and wines and Sh4 million to buy bed sheets and pillows.

More money was spent on CCTV cameras and, curiously, gumboots, while the directors of Steel Structures told detectives they were paid Sh8 million to supply nothing. The money, they added, is still lying in their accounts.

As details of the murky scandal unravelled, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and his Water and Sanitation counterpart Simon Chelugui accused individuals in the previous Cabinet of the mess.

PERSONS OF INTEREST

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations is today scheduled to interrogate four Cabinet secretaries on the project, alongside the directors of 107 firms contracted to supply goods and services for building the dams.

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High-ranking officials targeted in the probe include former Principal Secretary James Lopoyetum, former Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa.

Investigators also say they might question former principal secretaries who were in office during the planning and awarding of the multibillion-shilling tenders.

Sources told the Nation that KVDA managing director David Kimosop blamed “political interests and interference from interested quarters” for delays in the construction of the Arror and Kimwarer dams.

APPROVAL OF CONTRACTS

Mr Kimosop, who arrived at the DCI at 8.30am, told investigators he had been pushing for the implementation of the project, but had not been receiving support from other quarters since the project was approved in 2017.

Mr Kiunjuri, who was the Minister for Devolution when Mr Kimosop and his deputy Francis Kipkech signed the Sh64 billion contracts on April 5, 2017, also distanced himself from the scandal, saying the project was conceptualised when KVDA was under the Ministry of Environment and Regional Development Authorities, then headed by Prof Wakhungu.

“I never signed anything on those dams. I was not there when they were conceptualised. And KVDA was brought to my ministry in May 2016 when all the negotiations on financing had been done. Have you seen my signature anywhere?” he posed to the Nation.

The reason Mr Kiunjuri — or rather his ministry — was kept in the dark during the signing of the contracts is not clear.

BANKRUPTCY

He also denied authorising his ministry officials to do due diligence on the Italian firm CMC di Ravenna, months after the firm had signed the contract with KVDA.

On his part, Mr Chelugui told the Nation that the scandals facing his Ministry happened before his appointment as CS.

“I was appointed a CS on February 19, 2018, only a year ago. As you are aware, most of the Water and Sanitation facilities in place countrywide, including dams, were initiated and implemented by my predecessors,” Mr Chelugui said.

As pressure continued to mount on his ministry, Mr Chelugui said he was evaluating whether CMC di Ravenna will be able to complete the Itare Dam project in Nakuru after the firm filed for bankruptcy in Italy.

The taxpayer risks losing billions of shillings already paid out to CMC di Ravenna, and the CS says he has three options on the table at the moment; “to continue engaging with CMC di Ravenna, or assign the remaining works to another contractor, or terminate the contract with the firm”.

ROLES

The Italian firm has denied going bankrupt in a statement sent to newsrooms, explaining instead that it had “voluntarily engaged in a composition with creditors’ procedure to ensure it safeguards the interests of all stakeholders”.

But why the contractor paid for material irrelevant to the construction of a dam was still baffling detectives yesterday as they followed the money trail, while Mr Chelugui said the ministry only plays the role of coordination, resource mobilisation and policy direction

“The implementing agencies are the water services boards and National Water Harvesting and Storage Authority. There are several other dams under implementation by other agencies outside the Ministry of Water and Sanitation.”

COMPENSATE

The KVDA is currently under the Ministry of East Africa Community and Regional Development Authority, headed by Mr Peter Munya.

On dams being built by his ministry, Mr Chelugui confessed that the ministry is experiencing challenges ranging from contractual issues and contractor capacity to resettlement action plans over the implementation of Thwake and Itare dams.

Residents have been threatening to stop the construction of Thwake Dam, claiming they are yet to be compensated for use of their land and property.

“We are yet to compensate 186 individuals a total of Sh676 million for the use of their land in the construction of Thwake Dam. So far we have managed to compensate 1,606 individuals at a cost of Sh2.84 billion,” he said.

SUMMONED

Mr Chelugui said that although an advance payment of Sh7.39 billion had been made to the Thwake Dam contractor, the firm still has 45 months to the expiry of the contract.

“No money has been lost. The advance payment was to guarantee the contractor mobilises to the site and pays for project support activities like moving electricity and water lines,” the CS said.

Meanwhile, the DCI yesterday extended the deadline for the submission of documents by those who were summoned by a week. Earlier, Director George Kinoti had given then up to today.

By yesterday, Director of the Investigations Bureau Joseph Kariuki said they had not corroborated the statements and were yet to pinpoint those with a case to answer.

Already, 45 people have recorded statements while more than 100 have been interrogated.