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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Media trapped in Wajir county corruption conspiracy

A massive cover-up of filthy, under-the-table deals and the deep-seated corruption between the media and county governments can now be unearthed following  investigation by this paper. The sensitive, shocking and confidential exchanges between Standard Group’s senior management, its marketing executives and the county governments, particularly of Wajir, exposes a media and county government that care less for public interest.
For the last one year, Wajir residents have been engaging in a fierce fight with the county government over allegations of deep-seated corruption. Residents claim the county officials, led by the governor Ahmed Abdullahi enjoy a lavish and opulent life, bringing to question the source of wealth that transformed them from abject poverty. Step-by-step, a lobby group in Wajir county has been exposing the rot in the area, with some of its efforts bearing fruits after EACC pitched camp in the county offices to investigate the grand scams.
Second, the lobby has managed to send a petition to the president, through the Senate, seeking the suspension of the county operations. This is work in progress, and soon, sources say, Wajir may go down on to its knees the Makueni way, paving way for a new election. “The governor is a man under siege due to these corruption cases which are bleeding the public,” said a source at the county government offices.
Due to the fact that the governor runs the county government affairs like his family’s entity, Wajir residents say it has been difficult to tell what belongs to the government and what belongs to the Wajir county government. “The line between what belongs to the governor and what is owned by the county is very thin,” says a resident.
According to the lobby group head Mohammed Abikar, the county leadership has visibly fallen to the seduction of wealth, more wealth and power. “They are now rehearsing their pep walk to the courts. It’s not a crime to seek out money, power and prestige honestly and legally, but to shade out their past incapacitations and to overcome narcissistic from childhood, at times this desire for new life is so strong that they breach the ethical standards that previously grounded their conducts which has transformed into a bizarre,” he stated in an opinion that was published in the one of the local media.
According to Wajir residents, the governor and his clique of cartel of corrupt officials believe that a public servant who do not steal and enrich himself is considered a career failure. This is the motto of the Wajir county government.
Sources allege the governor has invested billions of county resources in his personal commitments. They include property investments in Nairobi, Wajir, Dubai and Mombasa. Based on the heavy corruption burden he is carrying, the governor now spends most of his time in Nairobi, engaging in fire-fighting activities as the collapse of the county is now imminent. The main target in the fire-fighting plan has been the media, mainly the Standard newspaper.
For instance, the county budget which had a lot of duplications, and which some county experts did a deep analysis of, was given a blackout by the media. The newspapers failed to publish the financial consultants’ appraisal of the budget whose analysis showed that Wajir budget did not have a narrative to explain the choices made in the budget in all the budget lines.
Importantly, he noted, the budget did not have a detailed narrative indicating the activities and expenses envisioned for each budget line. It also did not have a clear priority target, did not consistently have estimates for the next three years as is required by the law.
In the end, the consultant says: “Based on the above observations and facts, the Wajir budget as currently constituted cannot be recommended for implementation.”
A Wajir county senior official told this paper the governor had set aside about Sh50 million of taxpayers’ money as protection fee, and more deals have been promised if they shield the corrupt governor from hawk-eyed journalists. In a leading newspaper last year, it was reported that a top media house together with Wajir county government hired a plane and took some of the reporters to the county “for fair coverage” of the region’s development. A source said the journalists were housed in the posh Wajir Guest House for four days, the costs borne by the county government.
“Even with the recent reshuffle of CECs, residents say too little was done to curtail the runaway corruption. The filthy and corrupt officials in the dockets of finance and water were retained, development analysts see as zero fight against graft. It was a drop in the ocean. We want to see heads rolling and a major surgery, including the governor himself. He has failed to executive the duties he took on oath to defend. We have lost hope in his leadership. Surely, we have wasted five years of his administration. Ironically, in the reshuffle, the governor’s cousin, formerly his personal assistant, was elevated to the docket of chief officer-special programmes so that he can handle the duplicated emergency funds meant for peace, relief food, emergencies, NGO co-ordination and all duplicated recurrent monies earmarked for looting,” he claimed.
 Abikar observes: “We were full of expectations that the county administration will uphold integrity and fight corruption both “big and small”. Instead, their offices have become the panoramic view of the architecture of the counties corruption. Without debunking to unmask the facts on corruption, and, not to imperil possible ongoing investigation by the various government agencies, is it not true that the governor himself has transferred all juicy and major construction units and projects to his contacts and trust companies at inflated prices? How about disregard to due diligence or lack of it in public contracting and procurement procedures? Denial has never solved a problem and we hope he won’t attempt in this case.”
The Wajir development plan and budget is not priority-driven but contractor-profit-oriented. Projects that benefit the governor and his people and have a maximum payback are selected and undertaken. That is why Wajir residents have been complaining throughout of skewed public participation and one-man show in resource distribution in the budget making, a flashback of Kanu days.
According to a survey published in the Daily Nation on March 12, known as AfroBarometer Survey, almost 81pc of some counties have no public participation. In Wajir it is worse: 100pc. The lobby has begun the necessary legal documents and forms to be distributed to voters and residents to begin the process of recall by the end of March. A section of MCAs have been accused of being used as rubber-stamps and easily compromised while inequitable resource distribution and looting of public resources is a daily phenomenon.
They have been accused of having failed in their oversight role and ensuring equity in resource distribution in the wards. Majority are young, inexperienced with no knowledge of public administration and governance, this is why the executive has capitalised on them. MCAs pass budgets like a choir, without even finding out the interests of their own people. Yet, MCAs are elected to safeguard the interests of their voters and wards.
It is not surprising that these illegal acts have not been mentioned in the media. Only a week ago, Wajir county government placed more than five pages of advertisement, full colour, in the Standard newspaper. “It is disgusting to see media outlets through their executives jostling for appointments, contracts and advertisements from those they are supposed to watch. We now see a new trend of media partnership with the enemies of the people who tell the harmless and poverty-riddled Kenyans like those in Wajir,” said Abikar.
Wajir county governor is accused of massive tender manipulation, tenders fixing and cancellation of projects where his interests are thought not to be served well. Importantly, there is duplication and unexplained budget lines as the governor spends five days a week in Nairobi engaging in laundering his corrupt deals. Most recently, the governor hired a team of auditors from the Auditor General’s office, who are based in Hurlingham, Nairobi to come up with reports, which will then be used in place of the authenticated reports to conceal the county government’s filthy hands. “The reports are expected to reflect the auditor’s legal work,” said a source.
An employee of the Auditor General based in Garissa by the name of Abdihabat Omar for instance, is now a key architect of Wajir governor’s dirty work, cleaning up books and engaging in cover-ups.
Indeed, sources intimate the recent six-page jobs advertisement placed in the Standard newspaper was a pure public relations gimmick for the advertised positions are already filled, and none is vacant. It is said the county spent Sh6 million on the advertisement. It is also emerging that the county spent Sh350 million in purchasing office furniture, stationeries and office accessories yet only less than 10 per cent of them can be accounted for today. Sadly, despite allegations that they were bought at Victoria Furniture, sources say they were bought at a shop in downtown Gikomba. The high-valued furniture end up in the houses of the senior officials in Nairobi. This can be verified at the county’s ledger stores against the claimed purchases.
In a show of the dirty work in the county, medical equipment said to be in their millions cannot be traced. Wajir residents fear they may have ended up in private hospitals mainly run by the cronies of the governor. In the most subversion of honesty, contractors in collusion with officials close to the governor, projects that cost Sh10 million may end up costing twice this amount at the Auditor General and the Controller of Budget. More so, numerous firms which will otherwise be qualified to do county projects and who did not tender for any project in the county have their names used and money put in private accounts,” says a source.
In a show that the people are tired of his corruption deals, a recent visit by Deputy President William Ruto was marked by many boos from the public, directed at their leader, the governor. According to a report by the International Democratic Institute, whose outcome was recently shared with some MPs in a retreat in Naivasha, Wajir was said to be the second poorest performing county with a popularity of 19pc after Nyamira which got 11pc. The report trashes the recent report, allegedly by the World Bank, which ranked the county highly in terms of funds absorption.
Furthermore, according to the International Budget Partnership, an international organisation, which recently did an analysis on Wajir county budget, the region’s budget did not have the same priorities as its development plan. It says: “A look at the health section of the CIDP shows us some projects which are also in the budget. For instance, in the CIDP there is a project on completion of Wajir Medical Training College which is also in the budget. One is able to see that in the budget, this has been allocated Sh20 million for the year 2013/2014 while in the CIDP it is allocated Sh100 million for the year 2013-2017.
We have since established that there was a silent memorandum between the two entities (Wajir county government and Standard Group’s deeply corrupt Sam Shollei). Even after sharing with the said media confidential documents detailing corruption in Wajir, Shollei went ahead and instructed his managing editors to kill any negative story touching on Wajir on allegations that the lobby group’s documents were not authentic, and at the same time, that it had paid some journalists well to portray the county in a negative way.
Now, the lobby group has gone to court, seeking an unreserved apology from Standard Group and damages. Yet, Standard Group is currently in financial mess, struggling to pay its staff through bank overdrafts. In January, Deloitte, a consulting firm, indicated that the group should carry out a massive salaries and wage cut, to bring about financial sobriety in the media house principally owned by the Moi family.
Already, Chaacha Mwita, the firm’s former editorial director, who was mysteriously sacked in April 2014 over claims of undermining the CEO, Shollei, has been awarded Sh67 million in damages by the Industrial Court. Things are thickening. Earlier, the same court had awarded Jenny Luesby, Standard Group’s former editorial consultant, Sh20 million in damages for unfair dismissal. Ms Luesby, a former Financial Times journalist, is said to be in hiding in South Africa after Shollei allegedly threatened to screw up her life.
Shollei’s dirty engagement with Wajir county can now be revealed. Have a look at these exchanges that our hawk-eyed journalists in North Eastern managed to access at the end of this article. Readers will be able to sample the confidential exchanges of emails. Readers are reminded that this is the same Shollei who has been fighting EACC’s Mumo Matemu, asking him to go slow on investigations against mega scams by his wife, Gladys Shollei, when she was in the judiciary. This, it appears, is a deeply-corrupt family. Kenyans should not forget the Wilson Shollei, the former IEBC deputy CEO is also fighting to clear his name from the corruption mess that put the poll’s body in the wake of the March 4 2013 elections into a total fiasco.
Wajir lobby group says the intimate relationship between their governor and Standard Group started in 2014 when an investigative story was published in the Standard on Sunday, titled: “EACC probing corruption in Wajir County” with the byline Kwemoi Kapchanga. Some weeks before, a story related to this was also run in the same platform by a Rawlings Otieno.
The story did not go down well with Shollei, most marketing executives in Standard Media and the Wajir county government. Sources at the Standard Media told this paper the named journalists were intimidated by the management, and even threatened to disclose their sources of information contrary to journalistic practices across the world.
“They were asked to record statements, and apologise even as the Wajir county officials demanded severe punishment on them,” said a sub-editor at Mombasa Road. It will be interesting to see how far the “dirty” marriage between the Wajir governor and the media will go. Recently, Uhuru Kenyatta instructed all public officers and officials not to place advertisements in the media, and instead use a central, online portal. “We will save a lot of money from this move. We laud the move. Now, county governments will not be using their resources at blackmailing the media by fighting the national government and anti-corruption crusaders. It sounds like the second coming of Jesus,” said a source.
Weekly Citizen has managed to get the conversations and exchanges that followed the publication of the story from a source in Wajir who would not be disclosed for reasons that he may lose his job. The subject matter of the email correspondences is:
Wajir county malicious damage article, written on Wednesday August 27 2014, and copied to all managing editors of the Standard Media, marketing executives and some reporters who are said to be close to the Wajir governor.
In the above email, the Saturday Standard Managing Editor makes it clear that his paper did not carry the story. Instead, he says he has sent a team to Wajir county (these are the journalists whose upkeep and travel costs were borne by the Wajir county government as indicated above, and who are said to have written a malicious story about Wajir lobby group, its chairman, one Abikar Mohammed and some unspecified MPs who were branded ‘enemies of devolution’).
It was discovered the said journalists came up with phantom names that did never exist in Wajir in a bid to clean up the governor.
At this stage, a Ms Kabbis writes to John Bundotich, the Group Editor, highlighting the way forward on the malicious article:
A reporter in Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit counties to urgently take care of emerging news from this region.
 This will support the commercial function to avoid business loss (ref today’s standard 27/8/14 where we have lost Wajir business valued at 0.5m) to competition, courtesy of the negative publicity published (in) Saturday 23/08/14.
 It would be important to meet/call Yahya Mohammed Tel: 0727 82 13 00 and discuss on impending issues, to reinstate our good relations.
Grace Kabbis
Please consider the environment before printing email.
At this point in time, the Wajir county communications manager Yahya Mohammed writes a long piece, complaining about the article, how it was done and alleges that the writer of the story, a Mr Kapchanga was handsomely paid to write the story. Have a look:
Dear all,
My name is Yahya Dahiye, Wajir County Communications Director.
Almost eight months ago, your commercial executives Grace Kabbis and Kassim Sowed visited us in Wajir and I did arrange a meeting for them with the governor. It is after this meeting that we started our relations with The Standard Group. In fact Kassim took me round to your IM and Mombasa road offices and I met most of you.
However, lately there were some stories that were mysteriously appearing (in) The Standard that were very damaging on our county. The first one was done by Rawlings Otieno on a Sunday and it appeared on Monday around end of July. The story indicated that our governor together with that of  Machakos were being probed by the EACC. Rawlings and the Sunday editorial team never contacted us to get a comment or our side of the story. The governor came to the SG (read Standard Group) headquarters and responded to that.
Then last Sunday, a similar story almost with the same content was published by the Saturday team under the byline Kipowen Kapchanga although I personally know the journalist as Mark Kapchanga because one Mohamed Abikar who is the said chairman of Wajir anti-corruption lobby group called one of our employees on Saturday and said that he and Mark Kapchanga will publish a damaging story on the following morning. In fact Abikar said he has bought off the journalist.
More worse, Kapchanga sent text messages to the governor and head of procurement on Saturday afternoon (around 3pm to be exact) asking for comments. Because of the complexity of the story, Kapchanga ought to have done a little bit more. For instance this Abikar guy is not an activist, he is a politician. He vied as an MP twice and once as an MCA and failed. His Wajir anti-corruption lobby is a ghost organisation. They don’t exist in Wajir. It is not registered with the county or national government and they have no physical address or known employees in Wajir. Abikar himself has been in Nairobi since the last elections. His phone number is not registered and is off almost all through the day except at around 11PM.
This has reduced our confidence in SG and in fact our governor was very upset but I advised him not to respond to this story or even take any action against Mr. Kapchanga. In fact, I had a difficult time convincing him to talk to two senior SG journalists who were visiting Wajir (Joe Ombour  and  Jenipher  Wachiye).  As seen in both occasions, it seems someone is waiting for the weekend when there are few editorial meetings and scrutiny of stories to practice some bad journalism.
Yahya Dahiye,
Director of Communications,
Alongside the media, other orthodox tactics the governor is using to stay afloat is by bringing to a payroll a cartel of some brokers, some of whom claim to be advisers of the president to seek frequent appointments with State House to create an illusion that he is in good books with the regime. That he has the support of the system and he is working with the government of the day and he may cross over come 2017 elections is the trick. To the surprise of Wajir people, someone with no political spine and legs of his own can walk Jubilee around Wajir is a mystery of discovery. Now on the watch radar at EACC, the Senate and Auditor General, Controller of Budgets and specifically the clerk to the senate who is yet to forward the Wajir petition to the Senate and the relevant house authority for deliberation. The governor claims that the clerk is his former schoolmate at Starehe and the dark network has already reached him. According to sources, the lobby group has more damning reports and email exchanges between Standard Media Group, some editors at the Nation Media Group and Wajir and Mandera County Governments. The lobby is said to be planning to use the same in courts soon.
Yahya Mohamed
From: Kassim Sowedi, Team leader –North Eastern
To:Group Chief Editor
Ref: Wajir County Government malicious Articles.
Please refer to the above subject; it has been exactly 6 months since my deployment to north eastern region as a team leader charged with a responsibility of taking care of Standard Group business through securing memorandum of understanding MOU with the various County Governments in the region. The journey has not been easy at all, but this has never stopped us from penetrating county by county trying to earn the trust (as well as) business for the Company.
Of late we have been leading on market share in the north eastern region compared to our competitor, this came as a result of an MOU that was initiated by our Company CEO Sam Shollei with both Mandera County Government and Wajir County.
The following were the extract of concerns that were raised and agreed in MOU that was signed with the two counties. (Wajir & Mandera):- That the Standard Group shall deploy reporters in both counties to cover the emerging stories on day to day basis.
 That there will be no irresponsible journalism - reporting/malicious articles
But currently, the MOU has been violated by our own group where now the two counties are pointing fingers claiming that some of our staffs (Reporters) sitting in Nairobi are being used by politicians to undermine the county Government operations through writing malicious articles without factual.
I remember a lobby group known as Wajir anti-corruption forum. Headed by a person called Mohamed Abikair did malicious article petitioning the Governor of Wajir County and we published the article in our newspaper without following legal procedure, Nation media were given the same article to ran but they didn’t publish because of fear of legal implications and mutual relationship. After the article was published, the Wajir governor travelled to our offices to meet Mr.Sam shollei and they agreed that such political articles will not be published in our newspaper unless the legal procedure has been followed or advised otherwise.
Surprising, the article that was rejected by our legal team together with the commercial heads was captured as a story on Saturday 23rd page 11 by our own writer ( Kipchumba) who the head of lobby group of Wajir (Mohamed Abikair) claims that he paid him well for him to run the article and he also claims that he has a good network in Editorial team where by his articles will never fail to appear in our newspapers. The appearance of this article has really affected our reputation with the client whereby most likely the client is now diverting business that was meant for us to our competitor.
Client recommendation (Wajir County press director)
They are requesting your office to deploy a reporter ASAP to interview both the chair of the so called lobby group of Wajir Anti-Corruption Forum and the county government official to ascertain the truth.
Thank you.
Now, Wajir residents are calling on the Standard Group CEO to resign, and face corruption charges at the EACC. Importantly, they now say Wajir County Government officials must be put on the corruption chopping board. This can only be achieved if the “friends” of the Governor at the EACC are gotten rid of.