House committee suspends national surveillance system deal

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore. The mobile service provider was awarded the contract to implement a national surveillance system. (Photo:File/Standard)

Nairobi, Kenya: The National Assembly's committee on national security has suspended the security surveillance system that President Uhuru Kenyatta has been advertising.  The decision knocks the wind out of President Kenyatta’s campaign in which he has been warning criminals to “run and hide” because there will be increased surveillance in the country.

The MPs said the procurement was not above-board, the choice of Safaricom was unclear, and the details of how the project will be executed were simply “not convincing”.

The chairman of the powerful committee that handles the security docket, Mr Asman Kamama (Tiaty) said his team was not convinced with the explanation that they had received from the Cabinet Secretary of Interior Joseph ole Lenku.

“We have instructed the minister to suspend any signing of this contract until this committee approves it and the House also approves it,” said Kamama. “We have confirmed that they have awarded the contract, but it has not been signed. That’s why we are saying that the signing has to be suspended forthwith. There’s no signing that is going to be done.”

Lenku, his permanent secretary Mutea Iringo and Inspector General David Kimaiyo had appeared before the committee to shed light on the project, but there were many queries they failed to answer to the satisfaction of the lawmakers.

“So far the minister, and the technical team have tried to follow the laid-down procedure, to try and conform to the Public Procurement Disposal Act. But we are not at this stage satisfied that we have gotten the correct information for us to give it a clean bill of health, and for the House to approve it,” said Kamama.

The meeting was held behind closed doors. Kamama briefed journalists after the meeting flanked by the rest of the committee members.

The MPs spent over two hours in the meeting with Lenku, Iringo and Kimaiyo. When they came out, they said they needed more information from other government officials, and independent engineers and security experts.

Within the next ten days, the MPs want to meet Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore and his team; the ministry’s procurement team that assessed Safaricom’s capability and decided to award it the tender; the Attorney General, the Cabinet Secretaries of Information, and the National Treasury.

The lawmakers said they understand that the President and his Jubilee supporters are likely to accuse the committee of sabotaging the security of the country at a time when terrorism and crime are on the rise.

But they said the country’s laws have to be followed, more so, when public funds are being spent.

“We agree with the minister that the issue of security is extremely urgent especially terrorism. We all know that we need to address the issue of terrorism so that we can get tourists coming to the country. But even if we have that urgency, everything, every procurement, must be above board and must be cleared by this committee and the National Assembly,” said Kamama.

The committee chairman said the Cabinet Secretary told the MPs that tender was done via “restricted tendering.”

“The committee was not satisfied that all the requirements that are supposed to be included have actually been included. When it comes to restricted tendering, there’s always competition. We need to have other people send information,” said Kamama.

The MPs lamented that they were aware that the tender had been floated in 2011, and that there had been protracted legal battles between two of the bidders –Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE.

Kamama added that he hopes the President will not ignore the directive of the committee, the same way he ignored the directive of the National Assembly and went ahead to pay the Sh1.4 billion to the shady Angloleasing firms.

“We trust the Cabinet Secretary to abide by the instructions of this committee,” said Kamama

He said the committee will seek the Speaker’s permission to expedite the hearings and have the loose ends in the contract settled.