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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Eyes on Mudavadi as mega graft dogs Vihiga county

A report by ODM on leadership wrangles in Kisumu county has woken up the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to carry out a facing-saving investigation of corruption in the county government. But this is a knee-jerk reaction by EACC because the malaise unearthed in Kisumu is not isolated.
During the migration period, almost all county executives, MCAs and workers embarked on trips that exhausted budgets before the next financial year set it. The benchmarking migration became a diplomatic embarrassment to the country with hordes of MCAs stuttering their way in Germany, Israel, Singapore, Uganda, South Africa and even South Sudan. The rip-off was a well-coordinated financial scam facilitated by the leadership of county executives and assemblies for purposes of bribing. It requires the EACC to investigate all counties that were involved in this kind of scams. 
Other than the procurement fraud that has been institutionalised, it is clear there is a bigger rip-off in public funds on trips. They are meant as bribery to not only enrich MCAs but to also bribe them into overlooking theft.
A worse case scenario obtains in Vihiga county where everyone is on the take. County executives under Governor Moses Akaranga’s watch are trading in kickbacks for every contract awarded. The governor has acknowledged this fact after an outcry by contractors but has done nothing leading to speculation that he condones the malady. Rumours are awash that he allegedly gets a percentage of the kickbacks just like traffic police bosses do from their juniors on the road. Worse, his office is reeling under allegations of staff wrangling over lucrative contracts.
The Auditor General’s report speaks volumes about the corruption-infested zone that is Vihiga county. Executives bribe MCAs to withdraw motions or support suspect bills in the assembly at the behest of the powers that be. A case in point is when money exchanged hands to stop the removal of the county secretary last year. When the assembly voted to remove its leaders, the public service executive, a one Khajeri, was asked to give Sh1.6 million to the deposed UDF chief whip Chogo Abdallah to bribe MCAs.
Fortunately, sober heads prevailed against the idea and Chogo and his colleagues were dismissed. Those sacked include majority leader Ahuga Mwenesi, deputy Jackson Musoga and majority whip Chogo Abdalah and deputy Vincent Atsiaya.
Allegations are that Chogo had gone so rogue that he was the kingpin of an extortion cartel, earning the nickname of “negotiator” for bribes between the executive and MCAs. That he was sent packing is not just a relief to the governor but also to MCAs on whose behalf he allegedly received money but never delivered.
The silence of the UDF party is a pointer that it was displeased and sanctioned the removal of its leadership at the assembly where the party is the majority. In addition, Musalia Mudavadi’s private secretary Kibisu Kabatesi used his column in The People newspaper to launch a scathing attack on them. Kabatesi referred to a wider scheme to loot millions of public money under the guise of development funds for wards.
“In an unprecedented move, the Vihiga county assembly sacked all officials in one swoop last week. UDF and ODM, the majority and minority parties respectively replaced all their assembly leaders. The deposed leaders were accused of highhandedness, disrespect, sabotaging assembly bills for enrichment, financial impropriety, lack of personal integrity and corruption. The ousted officials, all of them elected, allegedly connived to kill assembly bills in return for millions in handouts. This can’t be idle talk,” Kabatesi asserted.
“Worse, the culprits were indicted for the surrender of Sh300 million from the current assembly budget to the executive. The scheme to reduce assembly budget is quite inspired; officially reduction would enable the county meet approval under the controller of budget ceilings. In reality, the plot is that the executive would re-channel the millions to MCAs in contracts awarded to MCAs choice contractors. Imaginatively, it would mean shoddy works and kickbacks through LPOs awarded for works not done,” wrote Kabatesi.
And in true fashion, there is a spectacle of shoddy roads construction whose procurement is only known to elected MCAs in Vihiga county even as Kabatesi had concluded that “Some fellows should go to jail. The Sh300 million contracts-for-support scandal must be scrapped and the public allowed to identify priority projects. And the new slate of assembly leaders must move fast and remove administrative elements that facilitate raids on public coffers beginning with the accounting officers,” he added.
The ODM report that reveals conflict of interest where MCAs award themselves contracts through briefcase companies or in return for kick-backs could as well have been about the case of Vihiga county. The Auditor General’s report shows that even in normal transitions of business, the county assembly breached rules and procedures when no approval meetings were held and fraudulent claims made about travel and attendance of seminars or conferences.
Lobby groups in Vihiga say the EACC, unless it is part of the scheme to protect the corrupt, must get to the bottom of the misuse of public resources in the bench-marking migration era. Impunity is marked by the rebuke by the clerk when reached for comment that “EACC cannot invite itself” to probe corruption. The EACC cannot claim lack of evidence because the report of the Auditor General reveals all. Another reason is that it cannot wait for county assemblies to discuss the Auditor General’s report because it is a report to be acted on.
In one such embarrassing incident, EACC was accused o being reluctant to enforce and order for a chief finance officer in Nairobi county to step aside after EACC officers had been bribed. In another, NSSF bribed EACC officers with houses not to investigate fraud in Tassia II land scam. When receiving surrendered grabbed public land in Mombasa, EACC received kickbacks to undervalue the land. With such an image where the hunter has gone rogue, Kenyans might as well hold their breath because EACC might return the usual verdict saying of lack of “hard evidence”.