Ghosts of 1982 coup, Sh7.8m ambulance deal return to haunt Isaac Ruto

By Josphat Thiong'o | May 26, 2023
Former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto when he appeared for vetting as Judicial Service Commission (JSC) nominee on May 25, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Ghosts of the 1982 coup, the helicopter and ambulance deal during his tenure as Bomet governor on Thursday returned to haunt Isaac Ruto, when he appeared for vetting as Judicial Service Commission (JSC) nominee.

Ruto, who was nominated by President William Ruto to sit in JSC alongside Carolyne Nzilani earlier this month, appeared before the before the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) for vetting where he was put to task over his suitability to hold office.

The committee chaired by George Murugara (Tharaka MP) sought to know why the former governor’s administration elected to spend approximately Sh7.8 million annually to hire ambulances as opposed to using those provided by the county government.

JLAC Vice Chair Mwengi Mutuse further pressed Ruto over his “strongly” opinionated nature and how it would affect his ability for teamwork- a conversation that ultimately led the committee to inquire about his alleged involvement in the 1982 coup against former President Daniel arap Moi.

After the foiled coup in 1982, the former governor – who served as the Vice chairperson of the Students Organization at the Nairobi University - together with his chairman Titus Adungosi, were arrested and detained over accusations of sympathizing with the forces involved in the coup.

He was released after one month in custody while his Adungosi later died in prison.

Former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto before the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) on May 25, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

“We never played any role in the 1982 coup. All we were against was the introduction of university loans to students. There was the fact that some of the army uniforms were found in the hostels which is true but we did not participate in the coup,” Ruto said.

"Some of the students had relationships with the servicemen and when the army was defeated, they brought their guns and uniform to us and we kept them for them," he added.

The legislators also took the former county chief to task over his alleged “daily” use of helicopters to tour Bomet county during his tenure and asked him to disclose whether he owned three helicopters as provided in documents tabled in the Senate in 2020.

“This committee has been furnished with allegations of your administration spending close to Sh7.8 million a year to hire ambulances as opposed to using those provided for by the county? Do you think this is prudent expenditure of public funds?” Posed Mukurweini MP John Kaguchia.

“We also need you to set the record straight on whether you own helicopters as alleged,” he added.

But Ruto denied owning a helicopter and defended his administration’s expenditure.

He explained that his administration agreed to hire ambulances from the Kenya Red Cross Society given because the county government was laden with issues ranging from lack of fuel, batteries and shortage of drivers.

“An ambulance must have international standards and the hiring of those by Red Cross were in no way a waste of resources. We paid approximately Sh600,000 a month for the six ambulances. One catered for our referral hospital and the rest for our other hospitals," Ruto said.

Former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“I further wish to confirm that I own no helicopters contrary to belief by the government. If I do perhaps this committee would help me identify them and bring them to me for use. If I had three, I would donate one to Red Cross, another to JLAC and the third to JSC,” he added.

Ruto was elected the first governor of Bomet in 2013 but lost the seat to the late Dr Joyce Laboso in the 2017 General Election.

The former governor and Nzilani, if approved, will replace Felix Koskei and Prof Olive Mugenda whose five-year term in JSC ends in November 2023.

The JLAC committee will retreat to write a report – either approving or rejecting the duo’s nomination- and present it to the House after it resumes from recess in June.

And in line with the Public Appointments (Parliamentary Approval) Act, the National Assembly will have seven days to either approve or reject the nominees.

The JSC is headed by the Chief Justice in line with the law that stipulates the commission must include one woman and one man to represent the public, appointed by the President with the approval of the National Assembly. They are eligible to serve for a term of five years. 

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