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Public Accounts Committee divided on calls to summon Ruto aide

Sunday November 13 2016

Parliamentary Accounts Committee chairman Nicholas Gumbo speaks during one of the sittings to probe the National Youth Service scandal. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Public Accounts Committee chairman Nicholas Gumbo speaks during one of the sittings to probe the National Youth Service scandal. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JUSTUS WANGA
By JUSTUS WANGA
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JOHN NGIRACHU
By JOHN NGIRACHU
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Plans by the powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to summon key allies of Deputy President William Ruto over inquiries into the theft of at least Sh1.6 billion at the National Youth Service (NYS) are facing strong resistance that could split the watchdog team and delay the expected explosive report on the scandal.

PAC has become the subject of intense lobbying from powerful government quarters in a bid to save Mr Farouk Kibet, Mr Ruto’s aide, and Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen from testifying over their alleged connection to the scandal.

By the end of the day on Friday, the PAC leadership was yet to decide whether to have them appear or make written submissions after embattled former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru named them when she appeared before the committee two weeks ago. 

On Saturday, Mr Murkomen told the Nation he had not received any request to appear before PAC.

 “I am not aware of any summon or request to make any written submission to PAC,” he said. Asked whether he’d honour an invitation, he said: “We will deal with it when we have it.”

Mr Kibet is alleged to have spoken on phone to Mr Ben Gethi, a key suspect in the scandal, 262 times at a time the brazen theft at the NYS was happening and later received Sh1 million from him, supposedly as a contribution for a harambee.

Mr Murkomen was initially adversely mentioned by Ms Waiguru in her replying affidavit to the explosive one filed by Ms Josephine Kabura.

The former CS said the Senator visited her office and that of then Principal Secretary Peter Mangiti to lobby for the release of money held in the frozen accounts of his clients doing business with the NYS.

This line has not been explored but members of the committee have been more intrigued after finding that Out of the Box Solutions Limited, linked to former radio presenter Angela Angwenyi and which received Sh90 million in circumstances deemed suspicious by the Auditor-General, paid Mr Murkomen’s law firm Sh5 million. Some PAC members want to know what legal work Mr Murkomen’s firm did for Ms Angwenyi’s company.

While Ms Waiguru was supposed to be the last witness in the long-running public inquiry, the revelations have added another twist to the drama that has played out at PAC.

PROVIDE WRITTEN SUBMISSIONS

“We had agreed tentatively earlier that we wanted to finalise the report and table it immediately the House resumes on Tuesday. We were to go for retreat this past week but you see now with the revelations and the possibility of more witnesses, this could not happen,” said a member of the committee, who spoke in confidence to avoid sanctions for discussing committee matters outside sittings.

There has been a push by some members of the team to let the heat generated by the last three witnesses – Ms Kabura, Mr Mangiti and Ms Waiguru – to cool down.

Multiple committee members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the State has been closely following the proceedings and has increasingly become uncomfortable. So intense are these efforts that one MP claimed he had been threatened on phone and no longer picked calls from numbers he did not recognise.

Three weeks ago, committee chairman Nicholas Gumbo was reported to have spoken of receiving “high-voltage” calls about the matter.

Mr Gumbo, who is the sole spokesman for the committee, declined to clarify whether they would summon the duo amid suggestions they could be asked to provide written submissions on what they know about the grand theft.

Jubilee MPs are understood to be afraid of the political repercussions of appending their signatures to a report containing damning recommendations against Mr Kibet and Mr Murkomen.

A member from Jubilee side said they were under pressure to resist, at all costs, the attempts to have the two allies of the DP summoned.

“While I can’t for sure say there is some big individual up there keen to frustrate our work, I can tell you we are working in fear,” the MP said, adding that some of his colleagues had been told their “dirty” secrets would also be exposed if they failed to toe the line.

The thinking in government is that the inquiry has cast it in bad light with elections less than a year away. There is also the feeling that with constitutional bodies already handling the matter, PAC could be duplicating their work. But PAC’s inquiries have raised questions about some decisions of the constitutional bodies, such as the Director of Public Prosecution turning former NYS deputy director general Adan Harakhe from a suspect to witness.

The DPP has since changed his mind and recommended that Mr Harakhe be charged.

The ongoing probe have also roped in banks which handled billions of shillings paid to suppliers in the scandal.

PAC has already summoned and received evidence from several banks including the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK). Barclays, KCB, Sidian, Guaranty Trust (GT), Standard Chartered, National Bank, Family Bank, Faulu and Old Mutual have all appeared.

SENIOR STAFF PUNISHED

CBK Governor Patrick Njoroge wants the regulator and its senior staff punished for failing to report to the Financial Reporting Centre the significant transactions by NYS suspects.

 After Ms Waiguru’s appearance and pointed assertions to the existence of “a puppeteer” plus the revelation of the contact between Mr Gethi and Mr Kibet, the Deputy President launched a caustic attack on her last weekend.

“When a hairdresser registers 20 companies in a day and goes on to be paid close to a billion, which she said she carried in sacks and then someone is cat-walking and talking a lot of English … Give me a break!” he said.

After the link to Mr Kibet was revealed, supporters of the Deputy President in the committee developed cold feet about the matter as it would be politically risky to have the aide testify as it could end up placing the scandal at the doorstep of the Deputy President.

But others are insistent that it must happen because PAC’s report would otherwise lose.

“He can easily contest that he was not given a hearing,” one of the members said.

A physical appearance would give the MPs an opportunity to interrogate the individuals while a written submission would allow them to make assertions unchallenged.

The importance of a physical appearance was evident when Ms Waiguru testified, with Mr Gumbo, Suba MP  and ODM chairman John Mbadi and Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire poking holes in her submissions especially on her role in the request for an additional Sh3.5 billion in the Supplementary Budget.

PAC has been haunted by the shadow of negative public opinion after its embarrassing wars last year over allegations of bribery and coercion, which ended with its disbandment and the ejection of then chairman Ababu Namwamba.

–Additional reporting by Patrick Langat  and Timothy Kemei