Conspiracy: Did builders introduce oil-siphoning mechanism in Kenya pipeline?

John Ngumi, Kenya Pipeline Company Board Chairman. [File, Standard]

A company contracted by the Government to build an oil pipeline from Mombasa to Nairobi has come under sharp scrutiny following fuel siphoning revelations. The Lebanese firm, Zakhem International Construction, is now being investigated following the discovery of a syndicate in which siphoning of oil has been going on around Mlolongo area.

So far investigations indicate that the junction through which the fuel was being tapped could only have been created before the 20-inch pipe was buried in the soil. Should the ongoing probe confirm that, then the thieves would have stolen millions of litres since August last year, when the Sh48 billion pipeline was commissioned. Staff collusion Investigators told The Standard they believed if the theory held, there would have to be collusion between the Kenya Pipeline and Company’s (KPA) engineers to have the illegal connection installed.

Normally, it is engineers on site who supervise the contractor and ascertain the safety of the pipes before they are laid and covered through back-filling. KPA chairman John Ngumi said the contractor would have tough questions to answer over the illegal connection. He confirmed that his staff were likely involved in the scam as the theft required complex skills to execute. “It is very possible that the pipeline was compromised before it was laid,” Ngumi said. He, however, could not disclose where the investigations had reached but confirmed the questioning of several senior officials. “Fuel is moved in a very precise manner that only our staff would know how and when to tap,” said the company chairman.

Mr Ngumi added that a team on the ground had found “potential hotspots” and was looking at signs such as new petrol stations to unravel the theft puzzle. “We don’t know if Mlolongo was an isolated case. They are using excavators where there are suspicions and the teams have already identified hotspots,” said Ngumi. “It is those hotspots that they will focus on in trying to see if

any connections were made. Signs such as a new petrol station will be of help.” Ngumi noted that investigations were also ongoing in Kiboko, Makueni where a leak was reported this year and possibly contaminated water. Ibrahim Zakhem, an executive director of the contractor, told The Standard none of his employees has been questioned yet, and that he was unaware of any involvement in the fuel theft at Mlolongo. “Zakhem handed over the pipeline to KPC more than a year after successful testing and commissioning in compliance with contract requirements,” said Ibrahim in an email response.

 “Since the final handover to KPC, its operations, safety, maintenance and security are the responsibility of KPC.” So serious is the situation that Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i personally visited the siphoning scene to assess how the theft could have happened. It is widely anticipated that several senior officials could be fired and likely prosecuted over the theft that had two suspects arrested two weeks ago. The two suspects arrested while tapping the fuel have since been freed on Sh500,000 bond each after spending more than a week in police custody.