CS Balala skips EACC grilling on Sh100m expo award contract

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left) chats with Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala during a tour of the port of Kisumu. [File, Standard]
Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala Monday failed to appear before anti-graft agency detectives to record a statement.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) said Mr Balala had asked to be given an alternative date as he had several out-of-town engagements this week.

“CS Balala wrote last week to request the commission to reschedule his appearance as he was engaged in various official activities this week. He provided a diary,” EACC spokesman Yasin Amaro said.

The minister was in Kisumu for a tourism event on Monday..

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Mr Yasin told The Standard that the commission would write back to Balala and give him a fresh date to face the investigators, with a source at the commission saying the new date would not be later than Thursday.

Balala is required to answer questions over Sh100 million payments made during the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) Destination Expo that was held in Nairobi in 2017.

Record statements

Former Tourism Principal Secretary Fatuma Hirsi and senior ministry staff have already recorded their statements before the commission.

Yesterday, The Standard learnt that the EACC was interested in Balala after documents revealed that he was in constant communication with the ASTA-Kenya chapter.

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The commission wants to understand under what circumstances Balala spent public money, yet he was not the ministry's accounting officer. The agency also wants clarification on whether the expo was hosted for one or three days.

On September 23, 2016, Balala wrote to the president of ASTA Kenya, Samson Some, informing him of the Sh100 million sponsorship to organise a tourism expo the following year.

“We are aware that your organisation, ASTA Kenya Chapter, has successfully won the bid to host ADE 2017 in February in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ministry of Tourism supports this initiative and commits to a sponsorship of one hundred million (Sh100 million)," Balala’s letter reads.

Investigators are also targeting procurement processes to find out whether the contract was issued competitively.

The commission further wants organisers to provide a breakdown of how, and to whom, the Sh100 million was paid. Sources in the investigation said EACC specifically wanted to find out how Sh27 million withdrawn in cash was spent.

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The EACC also wants Mr Some and the ministry to provide documentary evidence that Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) was paid Sh3 million for use of the venue. 

The anti-graft body, which is said to be nearly done with investigations, is expected to forward the file to Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji for his action within two weeks.

Following the ministry’s commitment, ASTA Kenya Chapter signed a ‘master agreement’ with ASTA Inc. of America for an expo (conference) to be held on February 20-26, 2017 along with an optional safari to the Maasai Mara on February 26-28.

Sh60m agreement

The agreement between Some and Zane Kerbv indicated that the value of goods and services to be made available for the conference would not exceed $60,000 (about Sh60 million).

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EACC investigators and lawyers want to understand if a private entity or individual can be given authority to commit State funds to another private entity.

On October 18, 2016, Some wrote to Balala providing details of ASTA's bank account domiciled at the Standard Chartered Bank in Westlands. The letter was received by the minister’s office on October 21.

And on October 26, ASTA Kenya and the ministry entered into a sponsorship deal where the ministry, through Ms Hirsi, underwrote to finance the expenses for hosting the event to the tune of Sh100 million, which was to be wired to ASTA's account.

On November 7, the ministry's senior assistant accountant general, Elijah Kabiru Gathuthi, wrote to ASTA Kenya asking it to confirm its registration status and bank account details

On November 9, ASTA Kenya wrote to Balala protesting at the delay in transferring the cash as agreed and warning that this could jeopardise the expo.

On November 10, Some swore an affidavit avering that ASTA Kenya was legally registered.

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Najib BalalaEACCEthics and Anti-Corruption Commission