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Ongeri lays out red carpet for Kibaki in Kisii as storm rages

BUSINESS
By | June 24th 2011

By Robert Nyasato and Augustine Oduor

The Minister for Education Sam Ongeri today lays out a red carpet for President Kibaki in Kisii, as pressure on him to step aside over Sh4.2billion scam rages.

Prof Ongeri has chosen to weather the storm, the second most turbulent for him in the ministry at the heart of President Kibaki’s legacy, claiming he is innocent and pressure directed at him is politically motivated.

But over at his Jogoo House office, where on Wednesday civil rights activists locked up his office with a padlock and chains before police intervened, the story was different. Street children, who they believe were sent to scare them, splashed the activists led by Okiya Omtata, with human waste.  “Chokaras mobilised (by some people) have splashed us with human feaces and taken off, but we are staying put,” explained Mr Omtata.

But on Thursday, it was business as usual for Ongeri as the clock ticked towards the presidential function in Kisii.

He claimed the pressure on him over Free Primary Education (FPE) funds was meant to settle political scores.

 “It is political now, people have gone beyond the ministry. People have gone personal on this matter,” Ongeri told The Standard on phone.

The Nyaribari-Masaba MP said, starting with the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission director PLO Lumumba, who asked for his resignation, to civil society leadership and university students, it was clear from the names they were from one community.

He said this left him with no doubt who was behind the scheme. “What does it indicate ... it shows political forces that feel support in their backyards has slipped their grip are financing these groups to push me out,” he charged.

He added that, somebody was using the saga to gain political ground in Kisii.

But as he sought refuge in tribal politics, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta with whom he addressed a press conference to concede the money had indeed been looted, was also Thursday sucked into the scandal.

Ongeri’s Assistant Minister Ayiecho Olweny claimed Treasury officials must also take responsibility. 

Prof Olweny said the officers who stole cash at the ministry were all seconded from the Treasury and asked Uhuru to sack ‘his officers’ who went to the Ministry of Education to loot.

Allocated cash

“Finance officers at the Ministry of Education were seconded by the Treasury and they are answerable to the Treasury, which falls under the Ministry of Finance,” he said.  He added: “These are Uhuru’s people and he should be the one to sack them.”

Addressing the over 5000 secondary school head teachers meeting in Mombasa, Olweny said it was only the Treasury that can transfer finance officers.

He defended Ongeri saying the minister does not have power to sack any officer at the ministry.

“Ongeri cannot sack any officer. There is an accounting officer who can write interdiction letters to officers under him,” he said.

The Assistant Minister also claimed a private school irregularly received Sh40million infrastructure fund from FPE money.

He said the school was allocated the cash because the owner is a sister to a former Cabinet minister.

“Last week, I was told by a former Assistant Minister of Education that the funds were allocated to the private school. Yet, public schools were hardly allocated half a million,” he said, amid applause from teachers.

The civil society activists camped outside Jogoo House for the second day chanting anti-Ongeri slogans and asking him to resign. They vowed to continue staging the protest until the minister leaves, but Ongeri was already in Kisii laying the ground for Kibaki’s visit.

 The President, who last week said no one would be spared in the fight against corruption, is yet to comment on the multi-billion shilling scam.

Ongeri wondered why other Cabinet ministers whose ministries have previously been rocked by corruption claims were treated differently.

“All other people involved in these things have not been treated like me yet I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

He said he defended himself during the school head teachers’ meeting in Mombasa, but certain individuals he did not name were not satisfied.

Asked whether he had briefed Kibaki, Ongeri said it was not necessary because the issue was self-explanatory. However, the minister said no money was misappropriated saying all relevant evidence had been forwarded to the police for further investigations.

Ongeri said he was in possession of a voucher of Sh1.9 billion signed by chief accountant at the ministry and a schedule of 3,078 primary schools that received the funds, the same documents that have been given to police for probing.

He said the remaining Sh2.7 billion was basically reconciliation issues.

The minister explained there was no cash movement or handling at the Ministry of Education but only reports of reconciliation between various investment partners and the Government.

Ongeri clarified that partners in the PFE project deposited money with the Central Bank from where it moved to disbursing bank, in this case Standard Chartered, which wired the funds to individual school accounts.

 “All the details are with the police who have the mandate to conduct forensic audit of the schools’ accounts to establish if they received the money,” he said, as he maintained there was no money lost.

Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka, his Public Health counterpart James Gesami, and National Heritage’s Wilfred Ombui said Ongeri should be given time to prove his innocence.

Contacted separately, the trio said it was premature to ask Ongeri to step aside yet there was no evidence linking him to scam.

“There is much more than meets the eye in this matter. I don’t think Ongeri should be the fall guy on this issue ... he should not be punished for crimes committed by others,” said Mr Onyonka.

He said there was no reason for Ongeri to step aside since he had made his case clear that there was a minister and a PS before him when the project started, but more importantly the audit report has not mentioned his name.

“We should not fight corruption using kangaroo courts,” he said.

Mr Ombui said there was a move to make Ongeri look incompetent, adding: “I have personally perused the documents in question and I can confirm to you what you are hearing is nothing but politics.”

 “It raises suspicion that nobody went to close the offices of ministers previously mentioned in corrupt deals until it came to Ongeri,” Gesami said.

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