The fate of Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich was hanging in the balance last evening after a whole day of interrogation by detectives, on the day President Uhuru Kenyatta took on those “releasing statements” to defend projects riddled with graft.
Sources told the Nation that Mr Rotich could be on his way out of the National Treasury and a leading Kenyan diplomat might replace him.
Water Cabinet Secretary Simeon Chelugui is also expected to be grilled on the scandal later this week, according to Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti.
Mr Rotich is among Cabinet secretaries and senior government officers who are being questioned by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) on two multibillion-shilling tenders awarded to Italian company CMC di Ravenna, which has not only claimed bankruptcy, but also abandoned the Itare Dam in Nakuru County.
CMC di Ravenna has also not mobilised its equipment on the ground in Elgeyo-Marakwet despite receiving Sh7 billion to start construction works.
It was not clear last evening whether Mr Rotich would be charged, although he looked increasingly isolated from his Cabinet colleagues and the centre of Executive power he has enjoyed since appointment.
Unlike the previous interrogation, which was done in the comfort of his Nairobi home, Mr Rotich spent the entire day yesterday at the DCI headquarters on Kiambu Road. He was released at 7.45pm and asked to report back at 6am today.
“We have not yet finished the interrogation,” Mr Kinoti told the Nation last evening. “If we don’t finish with him tonight, we shall ask him to appear tomorrow (today).”
Mr Kinoti also confirmed that Mr Chelugui would be appearing for questioning “over the Itare dam, once we finish with Mr Rotich”.
CMC di Ravenna abandoned the Itare dam last year after going through financial problems at home.
Yesterday, the Nation exclusively reported that the company had also abandoned a similar project in Asia.
Investigations into the scandal surrounding the Arror and Kimwerer multipurpose dams have caught the attention of the nation because of the enormity of the money involved.
While the DCI says Sh21 billion could have been lost in the scandal, Mr Rotich, in a newspaper advertisement last Sunday, put the figure at about Sh20 billion.
What is clear, however, is that 14 months after money changed hands, the earth movers have not rolled over the thickets of Arror or Kimwarer. Mr Rotich, Mr Kinoti said, was asked to explain this mystery yesterday.
“We have asked him to tell us which bank is holding the performance bond, and why we have not cashed the same as per the contract,” Mr Kinoti said.
“Also, we wanted him to shed light on what will happen to taxpayers’ money already paid to the contractor in case the project collapses.”
Last week, Deputy President William Ruto dismissed Mr Kinoti’s “Sh21 billion investigation”, saying the “only figure in contention was Sh7 billion”.
And then, as if on cue, leading politicians from the Rift Valley took on the DCI boss, charging that he is playing politics rather than investigating corruption.
President Kenyatta has defended the investigators. “This is not a war against an individual or a community, but a war against a crime that robs us the opportunity to build a nation,” he said yesterday.
“Thieving ways in both the national and county governments will not be allowed to continue, and seeking shelter in ethnic solidarity will not win that war,” he said at the opening ceremony of the sixth Devolution Conference in Kutus, Kirinyaga County.
Detectives could not say whether Mr Rotich was being treated as a suspect or an accomplice. The DCI has indicated that the insurance money the National Treasury paid was to cover CMC, not the project.
The DCI has asked the CS to say who he paid the money, and all the companies Kenya has been dealing with.
Detectives on the two projects have faced hurdles since none of the Italian directors has agreed to write a statement.
Investigators who have been looking for them in Munich, South Africa and Italy have not managed to interview any project signatory.
“They’re all passing the buck, but we shall get to the bottom of it. Anyone who facilitated this scandal will have to tell us what happened,” Mr Kinoti said.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri is also on the DCI radar.
The Cabinet Secretary is expected to explain what he knows about a tender that was signed during his tenure as Cabinet minister for Devolution.
Last week, both Mr Chelugui and Mr Kiunjuri appeared to blame their predecessors.
Other senior government officials expected to be questioned include former Principal Secretary James Lopoyetum, former Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa.
Investigators say they might also question former principal secretaries, who were in office during the planning and awarding of the multibillion-shilling tenders.
When the true picture of the financial capability of the Italian firm started to emerge last week, Mr Chelugui told a press conference that the government was evaluating whether CMC di Ravenna will be able to complete the Itare project after the company filed for bankruptcy in Italy.
Mr Rotich and other government officials seemed to be in trouble as no due diligence was done on the firm before it got the Sh63 billion tender.
At the moment, taxpayers risk losing the billions of shillings already paid to CMC di Ravenna, and Mr Chelugui says Kenya has only three options on the table.
“Option one is to continue engaging with CMC di Ravenna, option two to assign the remaining works to another contractor, and option three to terminate the contract with the firm,” Mr Chelugui said.