Sicily Kariuki was supposed to inspire fresh hope after her predecessor in the Youth docket, the powerful Anne Waiguru, resigned in the wake of a Sh791 million scandal at the National Youth Service.
Instead, investigators say, some Sh9 billion likely disappeared under her watch — which will be a blow to the soft-speaking Cabinet Secretary for Health who, for two years, was in charge of the Public Service docket.
While she exhibited some exuberance upon taking over the youth docket, which had been hived off from the Devolution ministry to Public Service, Ms Kariuki had promised to seal loopholes that had allowed some obscure but ruthless fly-by-night companies squirrel away hundreds of millions of shillings from NYS coffers for services they never delivered.
The companies survived on a network of allies both inside and outside the government, although it was not clear who was at the pinnacle of this deft scheme hatched to steal billions from government coffers on a pharaonic scale.
Officials at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations believe they have uncovered the networks involved, and sources told the Nation on Monday that renowned tenderpreneurs are set to be arrested in the coming weeks.
“We are coming close to the zero hour,” said the source.
Ms Kariuki on Monday remained tight-lipped on the scandal, which has pushed her under the spotlight as the then CS in charge, even as details emerged on how dummy companies were created to facilitate fraud that today eclipses the previous NYS scandal that saw Ms Waiguru, now the Kirinyaga governor, resign in a cloud of scandal citing “poor health” and “following my doctor’s advice”.
Calls and texts to her mobile number were not answered the whole day and by the time we went to press. The questions we sent to her sought to clear the air on what she knew about the Sh9 billion scandal, what she did to seal the loopholes, and why this happened.
In 2016 she had been asked the same questions by a local TV station, and she said: “I came into an institution that was riddled with a lot of shame and burden of proving that Kenya is able to overcome corruption, an institution where it was common knowledge that public money had been misappropriated. I was expected to turn this into hope; to put in structures to interpret the vision of the President.”
She said that when she walked into the ministry, she found that “financial systems and structures were inadequate, (and that) the (NYS) project was extremely ambitious given it had a weak foundation”.
Ms Kariuki told the TV station that she had asked President Kenyatta to allow her not to concentrate on what had gone wrong “because the other arms of government were already running the investigations”. Thus, she only interrogated the structures — and she said as much — rather than what had happened at the NYS.
When she took office on December 18, 2016, she promised to end graft at the National Youth Service, and in November 2016 told a recruits parade: “We have made every effort that is humanly possible within the time I have been in office to put in place measures that would ensure that money which belongs to these young people does not end up with a few people.”
Ms Kariuki had walked into a ministry where cartels reigned supreme, and when she appeared before the National Assembly Public Investment Committee on March 2016 — on the theft of Sh180 million from Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF) — she said that a lot of cleaning up needed to be done.
“From where I sit, I require the full support of the leadership to tackle the mess, including dealing with cartels,” she said.
On the pending bills, which are now at the heart of the current scandal, Ms Kariuki had first frozen the payments and appointed an “independent internal team” to verify them. The team, the CS told a local station two years ago, isolated all the bills which were not in question and paid them.
The team was supposed to verify all other payments with questionable paperwork, and how this process turned out to be another scandal is what the investigators are now dealing with as more siphoning took place under her watch.