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Sh9.2b: Detectives target junior staff Who will take the blame?

BUSINESS
By | May 11th 2009

By David Ochami and Peter Opiyo

The Sh9.2 billion riddle took a different turn when junior employees at the Finance ministry expressed fears they could be victimised as detectives visited the Treasury to investigate the scandal.

Detectives from CID’s Economic Crimes Prevention Unit went to the Treasury yesterday as the Parliamentary Budget Committee announced a preliminary report on the Sh9.2 billion Supplementary Budget deficit would be released today.

MPs allied to Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta rallied to his defence, claiming he was victim of political sabotage.

But at the Treasury, some employees expressed fear that powerful forces in the ministry might sacrifice them as scapegoats over the Sh9.2 billion scandal. A financial analyst at Treasury, who asked not to be named for fear of victimisation, said detectives should expand their investigation beyond junior employees to cover the entire Micro-Economic Working Group of permanent secretaries and directors of planning at Treasury, Finance and Planning as well as the Office of the President, besides the Directorate of Planning involved in the budget making process.

The official argued that the Sh9.2 billion said to be unaccounted for during requisition for the Supplementary Budget cannot be blamed on a "computing error" when about five PSs, directors and chief planning officers of several ministries were involved in processing the information for three months.

Allegedly inflated

"It is not easy for a computer error to occur on 120 items for a value that is so glaring," the official said of the reported items on which personal and other allowances were allegedly inflated.

At the Treasury, sources told The Standard that detectives spent several hours interviewing junior employees in the Budget Office who had been summoned on Saturday evening and told to come to the office yesterday.

Our sources intimated that Finance Permanent Secretary Joseph Kinyua also met the detectives in his office on the ministry’s 12th floor.

Some ministry officials said there was nothing unusual about Mr Kinyua being in office on a Sunday as his working week included the weekend.

Initial reports had suggested that Uhuru was expected at his office, but aides said he was attending a family function instead.

Mr David Murathe, the minister’s aide, denied that the minister was set for interrogation: "He is attending a family function."

Separately, former Justice minister and Gichugu MP Martha Karua said the coalition Government abetted corruption and restated her relief for quitting Cabinet "because I did not want to be counted among them", she said.

Earlier in the day, Uhuru was in President Kibaki’s backyard, Othaya, where several central Kenya MPs rallied to his side, claiming that the Supplementary Budget figures had been deliberately "cooked up" to taint Uhuru’s image and clip his presidential ambitions in 2012.

Speaking at Othaya Catholic Church, Uhuru, in obvious reference to his Treasury woes, said: "Lazima tuachane na hii siasa ya kuchimbana sababu haiwezi kutufaidi." (We must stop politics of undermining one another as it will not help us).

Murathe now claims the minister is a victim of a conspiracy by entrenched interests at Treasury and political opponents.

He further blamed MPs who approved the Motion, authorising the contested Sh26 Supplementary Budget on April 30 without scrutinising it.

Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara, who first blew the whistle on the affair, claimed "officials at Treasury were cooking figures to loot public coffers" allegedly to plough into a secret kitty.

Speaker Kenneth Marende has ordered an investigation by parliament’s Finance and Budget committees.

Remained silent

As police and Intelligence officers moved to investigate possible fraud and sabotage, church leaders remained silent on the Sh9.2 billion riddle.

The sermons at Holy Family Basilica, St Andrew’s and the All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi shied away from the matter.

But central Kenya MPs were deafening in their support for Uhuru. MPs David Njuguna (Lari), John Mututho (Naivasha), Simon Mbugua (Kamukunji) and Assistant Minister Lewis Nguyai said the "error" was a scheme by forces at Treasury to taint him and injure his 2012 quest for top office.

Mr Njuguna said the forces, and some of their political lieutenants, were keen to see Uhuru fail.

"This is real sabotage! They are putting a wedge between the President and Uhuru and want to paint him as a fraudulent person. This is staging mistrust in one community and portraying it as untrustworthy," he said.

Mr Mbugua, who also attended the Othaya harambee with Uhuru, said there was a conspiracy to taint Uhuru and pegging the scandal on him ahead of 2012.

"We read a lot of politics in this matter to dent the name of the Deputy Premier," said the Kamukunji MP.

Mr Mututho said the Finance docket was sensitive and asked that the minister be given a free hand to come up with his own team.

Summon minister

"This will ensure that if anything goes wrong, it will be squarely blamed on the minister. As it is now, it is clear that a section of the team must have misadvised the minister," he added.

But Bishop Enos Lanoga of the Church of the Latter Saints asked for thorough investigation into the matter and culprits behind the puzzle be arrested.

Lands Minister James Orengo said Uhuru’s decision to allow investigation into the Sh9.2 puzzle was right as the truth would come out.

"Uhuru did the right thing to allow scrutiny into the matter. Times for Government officials becoming defensive whenever issues arise should not be allowed," Mr Orengo said after a church service at Ukwala ACK Church in his Ugenya constituency.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Parliamentary Budget Committee Otieno Ogindo says the joint committee expects a preliminary report from Treasury today.

"After examining the preliminary report, we will summon the Finance minister to appear before the committee for his submission," Mr Ogindo said.

— Additional reporting by Maseme Machuka, James Ratemo, Peter Atsiaya and Job Weru

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