By Andrew Teyie
NAIROBI, KENYA: Former President Kibaki is in the eye of the storm following a controversial retirement ‘gift’ of a multi-million shilling petrol station by the management of the National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK).
Several members of the Board of Directors of the State corporation that is mandated to set up strategic infrastructure that will help bring down and stabilise prices of petroleum products have petitioned the Permanent Secretary for Energy, Patrick Nyoike, arguing the decision to ‘gift’ retired President a petrol station was a unilateral decision made by two individuals in the board.
“We the Board of Directors read in the media that NOCK chairman and the Chief Executive Officer had donated a petrol station to former President Kibaki. The Board had not discussed this matter and we therefore wish to exonerate ourselves from this donation that is not only illegal, but also an embarrassment to the former President,” the protesting board members said in their letter to the PS date April 18.
But when contacted on Saturday, Isaiah Kabira, a spokesman of former President Kibaki said: “The (former) President did not ask for the gifts neither did he demand any. (Former) President Kibaki should not be drawn into the internal intrigues of the National Oil Corporation,”
Kabira recalled that during the State House farewell party for Kibaki by employees of the public service, many organisations asked the President to choose his preferred gifts.
“They asked him to choose the gift he wanted and he is yet to choose one so he should not be drawn into Nock internal issues,” said Kabira.
Five Board Members of NOCK Jessie Mutura, James Gacheru, Stanley Kamau, Bernard Njoroge, and Fatuma Hassan signed the protest letter to the PS saying they were not party to ‘gifts’ promised to the retired president.
The four board members who did not sign were Jaafar Sheikh, Ezekiel Koimett, Paul Ngatia, Peter Gitonga, and the CEO, Sumayya Athmmani and Board Chairman Peter Munga, who naturally could not be expected to sign since issues were being raised against them.
NOCK management offered the petrol station as a ‘gift’ to Kibaki during the last farewell party for the President, which took place at State House on April 5, just a few days before the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
NOCK promised to build Kibaki a petrol station at a place of his choice. In what turned out into a comical competition between ministries and State corporations on who would come up with ‘best gift’ for the retiring president. The Ministry of Fisheries said it would build fishponds for him, while the National Youth Service promised to sink boreholes for the former Head of State. But Nock’s petrol station deal seems to have come tops and with that came the controversy. Industry experts put the cost of constructing a petrol station in the region of Sh50 million.
But for some reasons, the rather unorthodox gift escaped public attention and would have disappeared from public radar and scrutiny were it not for the complaints raised by Nock Board Members.
The dissenting members of NOCK Board further said in their letter to PS Nyoike: “There is no laws in this country that allows public assets to be donated to any person and therefore any expenditure relating to this donation is misappropriation of public funds and those responsible should be surcharged.”
And on her part, the CEO of NOCK, Sumayya Athmani, responded to the letter by board members with her own comprehensive 18-page letter to the PS in which she accused the complaining board members of malice.
“The constant hostility directed at the CEO (by some board members) is essentially because of these board members feeling aggrieved that they are not personally benefiting from the corporation,” said the CEO in her letter to the PS dated April 26.
The CEO, however, did not explain if there were some board members who were “personally benefiting from the corporation”, as opposed to those who were not, hence their constant complaints against the CEO.
Summayya also sought to explain the basis of a petrol station ‘gift’ to the retired President.
Addressing the issue of petrol station ‘donation’ to the former President, Sumayya explained: “The National Oil Corporation has an initiative of partnering with Kenyans who own land in strategic places to construct retail stations on the said land and recover the costs from sales of fuel. This is the same model that will be adopted in respect to the former President should suitable land be identified.”
The petrol station ‘gift’ controversy is just one among several issues that made Energy PS Patrick Nyoike to summon an urgent board meeting for Nock directors early this week where he reportedly advised board members to mend its differences.
The controversy and problems facing National Oil Corporation, a strategic parastatal come at a time when retail fuel prices have become a major burden for Kenyans with the constantly increasing prices leading to escalating cost of living.
NOCK, a parastatal owned by the Government 100 per cent under the Ministry of Energy was incorporated in April 1981 participate in all aspects of petroleum industry to mitigate against profit-driven multinationals that dominate the petroleum industry.
The parastatal started its operations in 1984 generally focusing on exploration activities before moving downstream (retail business) four years later setting up petrol stations. The formation of the Corporation was brought about by the fuel crisis of 1970s and early 1980s, with the Government stepping in to try and stabilise fuel prices as well as the supply.