Kenya's 'new' fighter jets cannot take off

Business

By Juma Kwayera

Parliament's pressure on the Executive is likely to increase as the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee that brought a damning report on Moses Wetangula prepares to turn the spotlight on the Ministry of Defence over Air Force jets acquired from Jordan and whose airworthiness is in doubt.

The report by the committee chaired by Adan Keynan led to the stepping aside of Foreign Affairs Minister and his PS Thuita Mwangi last week. The Department of Defence would once again be called upon to respond to a stink following damning revelations the 15 fighter jets the Kenya Air-Force (KAF) acquired from Jordan this year were substandard.

Parliament this week flexed its muscles, following the passage of the new Constitution. On Thursday, the Committee on Legal and Justice Affairs gave the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) 72 hours to either shape up or ship out over its credibility crisis, prompting Chief Justice Evan Gicheru to appoint a tribunal to probe its chairman Bethuel Kiplagat.

Our inquiries on the jets revealed that the aircraft cannot fly but the issue has been hushed up in the military.

However, military spokesman, Bogita Ongeri, denies these allegations. “The weather made visibility impossible. The flypast had to be dropped from the programme,” says Ongeri. He maintains the aircraft imported this year are in serviceable condition.

Good shape

Senior officers in the force are concerned that the F-5 aircraft, for which the taxpayer shelled out Sh2 billion, are not in good shape.

According inter-office notes seen by The Standard On Sunday, the military top command was duped into buying the 15 aircraft in disregard of the advice of American manufacturers of the F-5 fighter jets. The officer says the Jordanian jets have “proved to be much older than the 1978 fleet”.

Parliament’s spotlight on Department of Defence would be just one of the additional probes the House would be conducting on the Executive. The House is also likely to seek to know if there were any financial fraud schemes at the Ministry of Water. On Friday Assistant Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri made sensational claims of graft in the ministry, which Charity Ngilu heads.

Our inquiry into the jets indicated that given the strategic importance of Kenya to the US’ war against international terrorism, Washington had offered to sell to the Air Force newer versions of the model in addition to regularly servicing them and training pilots and engineers.

Value for money

The scam, which cost the taxpayer Sh1.5 billion, is now the subject of a parliamentary committee probe, with the Defence Minister, Yusuf Haji, set to respond to queries on whether taxpayers got value for money. Although the aircraft were received early this year, the procurement was done when Njenga Karume was the minister in charge.

Keynan confirmed to The Standard On Sunday that his team was aware of the scam and is digging out facts.

“We have heard of the allegations. The committee will soon summon the Defence officials to respond to these allegations,” Keynan, MP for Wajir West, says.

Asked for comment, Assistant Defence Minister, Maj-Gen Joseph Nkaissery was economical with details.

“There have been those claims. However, the right person to respond is the minister,” Maj-Gen Nkaissery, who headed the military intelligence before retiring, says.

The jet fighters scandal is the biggest since 2005, when the national security-related Anglo Leasing was exposed.

The Jordanian jets were airlifted in parts then reassembled locally.

The Ministry of Defence traditionally receives the second largest budgetary allocation after Education, but its appropriation is such a guarded affair that it is difficult to hold the Department of Defence to account over procurement.

In last year’s Budget the Ministry of Defence was allocated Sh48 billion, while Education took up Sh170 billion. More significantly the Defence and Foreign Affairs budgets have been doubling every financial year.

Senior officers in the Department of Defence told The Standard On Sunday the condition of the 15 fighter jets became a serious concern after engineers doubted their airworthiness during rehearsals to usher in the new Constitution on August 27. Only one has been airborne.

The officers say, “The saddest thing is that the only jet that ever passed the air-worthiness test did so only after KAF engineers cannibalised one of our own F5 jets to resuscitate one of the newly acquired jets. (This one has also since been grounded). This was to divert attention when politicians became apprehensive about the whole deal.”

Big question

Our sources say when Kenya wanted to replace its aging F-5 fighter jets with 15 others, it opted for the ones Jordanian Air Force was disposing of. It cost about Sh2 billion ($23 million) to buy and transport the craft from Jordan to Nairobi.

The notes made available to us point to frustration over the procurement of the jets. “The big question is: Why didn’t our local Air Force repair the jets in their custody instead of buying junks?

It would have been more prudent to buy even only five serviceable F-5 fighter jets than commit a huge chunk of the country’s money on buying 15 junks that will never serve anybody.”

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