I'm being persecuted over Telkom: Nyakang'o

Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o. [Brenda Radido, Standard]

Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang’o has taken on President William Ruto, claiming that his government wants her out of office.

This follows High Court Judge Chacha Mwita’s orders barring the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) from charging Dr Nyakang’o over the controversial Sh6 billion Telkom sale.

“A conservatory order is hereby issued restraining the respondents from arresting, charging or prosecuting the petitioner in relation to matters pertaining to her duties as the Controller of Budget until March 13, 2024,” ruled Justice Mwita.

Dr Nyakang’o said the criminal charges against her in Mombasa and the EACC’s recommendation that she be charged are part of a wider scheme to remove her from office.

She claimed she was never summoned to answer queries about the Telkom sale. According to her, she is being persecuted for being a whistleblower.

“I am reasonably perturbed with the news that I am likely to be charged in relation to an inquiry into allegations of conflict of interest and corruption in the acquisition of Telkom Kenya shares by the Government of Kenya from Helios Investments Limited at a cost of Sh6 billion in the financial year 2022/2023.

“I have reasons to believe that a politically orchestrated endeavour has been hatched to maliciously soil my reputation as a result of my recent whistleblowing where I was coerced to approve release of Sh15 billion from the public coffers,” she said.

Her lawyer, Danstan Omari, argued she enjoys security of tenure and can only be removed from office through a disciplinary process.

According to Omari, Dr Nyakango has never been asked to respond to the Telkom sale or given a show-cause letter on the issue. He said she is being haunted for other issues unrelated to her office roles.

“The applicant has not committed any offence in Kenya, nor has she been involved in any criminal activity whether by herself, or jointly with any other persons. The imminent actions of the respondents serve as a manifest indication that the respondents and or their agents want to engage in capricious and arbitrary cause of action and the applicant could be the casualty in this unfortunate plan,” argued Omari.

In her supporting affidavit, the Controller of Budget claimed that former Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani signed for the release of the money now haunting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s top men.

She argued that Kenya Kwanza is using the anti-graft watchdog for political witch-hunt and her trial is intended to settle political scores.

“State organs and agencies should not be used to achieve extraneous political purposes unconnected to upholding of the law and objectives of the system of the administrative instruments. State organs should not apply selective justice by advancing and championing political undertones instead of general interests,” said Dr Nyakang’o.

The anti-graft agency recommended to the DPP to charge Yatani, former Treasury Principal Secretary Julius Muia and former Telkom Kenya officials for alleged economic crimes in the sale of the telco.

“On 29th August 2023, a report was compiled and forwarded to the DPP with recommendations to charge the former Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury, the former Principal Secretary at the National Treasury, the Controller of Budget, former Director General Public Investments and Portfolio Management, Chief Executive Officer at Telkom Kenya Limited, chairman of the Telkom Kenya Limited Board, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer and Chief Finance Officer at Telkom Kenya Limited and a transaction advisor for Helios with the following offences,” said the EACC in a quarterly report.

The agency said the officials should be charged with conspiracy to commit economic crimes, and 15 counts of abuse of office.

Among Telkom Kenya officials to be charged include CEO Mugo Kibati and chairman Eddy Njoroge.

Former Uhuru ally John Ngumi, the owner of Eagle Africa Capital Partners, played a key role as transaction advisor for the controversial multi-billion buyout.

Other charges include willful failure to comply with the law relating to the management of funds, alternate count of entering into an obligation that has a financial implication, conflict of interest, procurement irregularity, fraudulent acquisition, and money laundering.

EACC also proposed six counts of acquisition of proceeds of crime contrary to Section 4 as read with Section 16 of the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2009, and neglect of official duty.

In October, the Ruto government rescinded former Uhuru government’s purchase of 60 percent of shares in Telkom Kenya from London-based private equity firm Helios.

The decision was made in the twilight of Uhuru’s administration, which nationalized the telecoms operator at a cost of Sh6 billion.

The Ruto government subsequently announced that a Dubai-based fund, Infrastructure Corporation of Africa LLC (ICA), will now acquire the shareholding.

The Cabinet said its intervention will “enhance the operational capacity of Telkom Kenya and make it a competitive player in the telecommunications market.” Helios, a private equity firm, bought into Telkom Kenya in 2016, saying it intended to rescue the ailing company through heavy investments and an overhaul of management.

The Uhuru administration argued that it was necessary to buy out Helios due to the strategic nature of Telkom. The telco was the sole fixed-telephone operator before the advent of mobile phones. But mismanagement turned it into a perennial loss-maker.