By James Anyanzwa
Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta ate back his words, dropped the fighting mood, and blamed Sh9.2 billion puzzle in the Supplementary Budget on either ‘typing’ or ‘computer’ error.
In effect Uhuru, who President Kibaki gave the docket in January, blamed the Sh9.2 billion puzzle on the complexity of computer technology or human fingers moving on the machine’s keyboard.
Uhuru appeared to jump the gun by dropping the startling excuse bound to undermine the credibility of the National Budget, on a day the House Finance Committee was meeting to scrutinise his table of figures and vote items.
Yesterday the minister, whose fate now hangs on a report by the Parliamentary Finance and Budget committees next Tuesday, ruled out mischief by Treasury technocrats.
"I’m completely confident there was no intention by the Treasury to defraud any single Kenyan and I do believe ultimately the numbers would tally," the Kanu chairman, one of the most influential politicians around President Kibaki, told reporters at his Treasury offices.
"Yes, there may be a typing error but that to me may not be a major cause of alarm,’’ added the man whose name is on the 2012 presidential election wish-list.
The minister, who may have to face resignation pressures from the divided House and Grand Coalition, talked of confidence the House committees probing his paperwork would clear him.
"I’m very clear and secure and even moving the Appropriation Bill," said the son of First President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Uhuru came second in the 2002 presidential race, but abandoned opposition leadership to support President Kibaki in the 2007 General Election.
When the matter burst the seams in Parliament last week, Speaker Kenneth Marende referred the issue to the committee even as Uhuru resisted his move. Uhuru, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, vouched for the veracity, integrity and unassailability of the figures. But yesterday he had a different explanation on camera.
Early in the week, while displaying a conceited posture, Uhuru claimed the discrepancies raised by Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara were not ‘real’. He accused the MP of acting in bad faith.
Poked holes in estimates
He also disparaged the Mars Group, the independent graft investigation unit, which poked holes in his Supplementary Estimates on its website. Uhuru then accused Imanyara of allowing himself to be misled by, "advisors of questionable professional credibility".
Imanyara’s ‘crime’ was that he had accused Uhuru of misleading MPs to believe he would only draw Sh22 billion from the Consolidated Fund, but had used their approval to withdraw Sh31 billion.
This stirred the conscience of the nation with claims that this was a fraudulent act by the Treasury. Imanyara brought to the House cases where, according to Uhuru’s own documents, 200 of the vote items approved by Parliament were scaled upwards.
Imanyara accused Uhuru’s team of either using the variation to steal public funds or to secretly pay off Government obligations in the sleazy Anglo Leasing-type contracts that the Comptroller and Auditor General put at Sh56 billion.
Uhuru, who said the ‘discrepancies’ were a figment of Imanyara’s imagination, could eat humble pie as questions begin to be asked if he personally double-checked the figures before taking it to Parliament, or if he were let down by his subordinates.
"This is normal, one can never be 100 per cent, (at times) there are mistakes in my (written) speeches," he told journalists after signing four loan agreements with World Bank totalling Sh32.2 billion. The donor, represented by the country director Mr Johannes Zutt, listened as the DPM tried to explain away the glitch that raised temperatures in Parliament.
Uhuru had earlier claimed discrepancy was not ‘real’ and had injured his reputation and that of the Treasury.
While referring the matter to the committees Marende advised Uhuru a probe was in his best interest if there was nothing to hide. "The Finance committee will merely confirm that (no fraudulent activity) as the true position," he said.
Falsification of figures
He, however, clarified that by ordering the investigation, he did not insinuate fraud.
He told the minister that he had nothing to fear if the figures he had given to Parliament when he requested the Supplementary Budget were accurate.
Imanyara claimed that the Finance Minister could not account for Sh9.2 billion from the 2008/09 budget in June last year, before requesting additional Sh26 billion last week in a Supplementary Budget.
Imanyara alleged the money had been diverted to pay for ‘suspect’ pending bills following what he claimed was "a falsification of figures at Treasury".
The Finance Committee is expected to address entries from nine ministries and the Judiciary, which Imanyara alleged, were false.
Mars Group, which is headed by Mr Mwalimu Mati, analysed the Supplementary Budget against figures in the approved National Budget.
The group claimed the figures showed systematic differences that might have made Parliament to vote for additional funds than were necessary.
Mars Group claimed that 200 budget line items involving 35 ministries had been varied upwards and the total figure in dispute was just over Sh9.2 billion.
Mati challenged the Minister of Finance to name the people responsible and who at the Treasury authored the Supplementary Budget.