By Augustine Oduor and Steve Mkawale
Education Minister Sam Ongeri has been asked to resign and take responsibility for the loss of Sh4.2 billion meant for free primary education.
The calls came from Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Director Patrick Lumumba and Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale, as the matter of the misappropriated funds boiled over in Parliament.
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"The minister and the Permanent Secretary in charge of the ministry should take responsibility and resign, and that if they don’t resign the Honourable President of the Republic of Kenya should dismiss them," said Lumumba.
"That is what is done in civilised democracies. You cannot continue to preside over a herd of animals, where animals continue to disappear and you don’t take responsibility," Lumumba said.
On Monday, Lumumba had accused Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta of playing to the gallery and trying to impress the World Bank when he released an audit of the Ministry of Education that exposed the loss. He said Uhuru was simply trying to secure funding from the World Bank yet KACC had investigated and there were ongoing cases in court related to the same.
According to KACC, Kenya, which is East Africa’s biggest economy, loses up to 40 per cent of its gross domestic product to graft annually.
The money was siphoned over a period of five years from 2004 to 2009. The matter generated heated and furious exchanges inside and outside Parliament.
Today, 90 people implicated in the scandal, are expected to begin recording statements at the CID headquarters in Nairobi. The Head of Investigations at CID, Mohammed Amin, will lead the exercise.
In Parliament, Prime Minister Raila Odinga answered a barrage of questions from MPs, who demanded to know what action would be taken against those who looted the large amounts from public coffers.
"Sufficient investigations have been carried out and the big fish involved would be prosecuted," said Raila.
Apart from the money for free primary education that was embezzled, the Minister for Finance Uhuru Kenyatta released a Treasury report last Monday, showing discrepancies in money allocated for drugs procurement that was received by Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa) during the financial year 2007-2008.
The Kemsa cashbooks showed it received only Sh886.7 million against a budget provision of Sh2.94 billion.
on Wednesday, Medical Services Minister Anyang’ Nyong’o dismissed claims by the minister that Kemsa failed to account for Sh1.6 billion received during the period.
Nyong’o accused Uhuru of playing ‘cheap politics’ saying Kemsa never misappropriated any money. "I am shocked by the audit report released by Uhuru recently since Kemsa has no debts. All the debts were cleared in April 2009," said the minister.
He asked why Uhuru did not find it important to share the contents of the report with officers in the Ministry of Medical Service and Kemsa officials before making the "false" announcement.
"Uhuru found it important to invite the Minister for Education Sam Ongeri to the press conference, but he could not notify me. That report is misleading both to donors and Kenyans," said Nyong’o.
In Parliament, Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto asked the Prime Minister to explain what action the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and police were taking against persons involved in the scandal.
He proposed that funds meant for education projects be disbursed directly to counties, as opposed to the current system. Raila said it was not possible because education was not among sectors that were devolved under the new Constitution.
The PM also told the House that KACC was only empowered to investigate and not to prosecute, and that is why so many cases of corruption remained unresolved.
He said weak laws have hampered KACC’s battle against corruption, but noted that the new Constitution would give the Government more teeth to fight the vice.
Wheels of justice
Gwassi MP John Mbadi sought to know why it took so long to make the report public when the public lost Sh4.2 billion. Raila said the wheels of justice sometimes grind slowly.
He said although the report was ready in November, last year, it was released on Monday.
Before Raila spoke, Ongeri had been ordered by Parliament to table the audit report by the Treasury, detailing the Sh4.2 billion scandal alongside a full list of senior ministry officials who abetted the vice, which prompted donors to suspend funding.
Ikolomani MP Bonny Khalwale also asked the minister to state whether he would take full responsibility and "do the honourable thing to resign as Education minister".
At the Ministry of Education, the Permanent Secretary James ole Kiyiapi said he would not "take responsibility" for mistakes of other ministry officers that led to the loss of Sh4.2 billion meant for Free Primary School. But he supported refunding of the cash by those involved and prosecution of the suspects.
The PS explained that he was not in charge of Medical and Education ministries at the time of the scam, and faulted calls for his resignation.
"I was posted to Medical Services ministry in September 2008, and joined the Ministry of Education in June last year. In all these periods, the cash had already been stolen," ole Kiyiapi said.
He challenged Lumumba to come clear on whom he referred to when he demanded, "the PS should take responsibility".
"If you say the Education PS should take responsibility then which PS are you referring to? Which PS do you have in mind?" he demanded.
He challenged Lumumba as the chief investigating officer to be "vigorous and factual".
Said ole Kiyiapi: "He cannot be allowed to talk casually yet he has the machinery to do the work. It is his job."
Immediately after Uhuru released the report, Lumumba termed the launch of the audit report a public relations stunt.
"We know that some departments of the Government are trying to look good. We also know that World Bank officers are in town, but we should not look good when we are not," he said.
Lumumba challenged minister Sam Ongeri and the PS to take responsibility for the allegations of fraud.
But ole Kiyiapi dismissed claims that he should take responsibility over loss of cash at the Ministry of Medical Services where about Sh800 million was transferred to Kemsa against a budget provision.
Kinangop MP David Ngugi and his Naivasha counterpart John Mututho also asked for the sacking and prosecution of Ongeri and the accounting officer at the ministry.
Ngugi claimed the minister and his former PS Karega Mutahi should be held accountable for the misappropriation.
"The minister came to Parliament and told the country that no money had been stolen, but an audit report has proven otherwise."
The MP said that anybody who had misappropriated public money should be sacked.