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Probe into Sh91b dams saga kicks off in Rome

By Vincent Achuka | February 23rd 2019
President Uhuru Kenyatta chairs a Cabinet meeting at State House, Nairobi, on August 14, 2018. Also present is Deputy President William Ruto. [File, Standard]

Parallel investigations have been launched in Rome to find out whether Italian Company CMC Di Ravenna bribed Kenyan Cabinet Secretaries to bag controversial dam projects worth Sh91 billion that have since collapsed.

This emerged as Water Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui fought to clear his name, saying he was not in charge when the contracts now under investigation were signed. He took over from Eugene Wamalwa, now the Devolution CS.

Chelugui, who is in Rwanda on an official tour, told Saturday Standard that he was only implementing projects handed over to him when he took over the office, and directed us to share our questions with CS Wamalwa.

The Devolution CS, who appeared in the morning alongside Opposition leader Raila Odinga and Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o for a press briefing, however evaded questions about the ongoing probe.

After the press briefing, we were unable to reach the whole day, as his handlers said he was held up in meetings.

“Most of the projects that are going on at the ministry were signed before I was appointed. My role has been to fast track their implementation in order to achieve 80 per cent of water coverage across the country,” said Chelugui.

“Itare dam, for example, was at 44 per cent when it stalled and we have discussed with the contractor, who has a financial problem, to sub-contract the remaining part of construction,” he said.

Dragged to court

In Rome, Kenyan investigating agencies, which dispatched a team of detectives there last week to tie up loose ends on the probe, have asked their Italian counterparts for support in firming up the case, which could see some Cabinet secretaries dragged to court.

If this happens, it will be the second time in the Jubilee Party regime that Cabinet secretaries have been directly linked to corruption, but it will be the first time they will be appearing in court.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is said to have told Cabinet secretaries on Thursday that anyone found to have received kickbacks for the controversial dam projects will bear criminal culpability.

Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri, who was reported yesterday to be among those who may be questioned, also distanced himself from the saga. “Those dams are under the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA). My ministry is not involved in the procurement or construction of dams,” he said. CMC Di Ravenna was contracted to build the Arror, Kimwarer and Itare Dam in the Rift Valley, before it filed for bankruptcy last December. Arror Dam in Marakwet West Constituency was to cost taxpayers Sh38.5 billion. Kimwarer in Keiyo South will cost Sh28 billion while Itare dam in Kuresoi North will cost Sh27 billion.

Government officials are understood to have given CMC Di Ravena too much leeway in the projects, by awarding them an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) contract similar to what happened in the Standard Gauge Railway.

In an EPC contract, a contractor carries out project engineering design, procures all equipment and materials necessary, and constructs to deliver a functioning facility or asset to their clients. In the case of the dams, CMC Di Ravenna was also allowed to seek funding for the projects.

Essentially, this means that taxpayers are now exposed to fund collapsed projects, which the government played a minimal role in their conceptualisation. In the case of the dams, CMC Di Ravena secured funding from Chinese lenders BNP Paribas and Intesa San Paolo.

One of the loans, worth Sh34 billion, was signed at State House in the presence of President Kenyatta and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who had jetted in for an official visit in July 2015.

On Monday, Treasury CS Henry Rotich became the first CS to be questioned by the DCI over the dam scandals.

CMC Di Ravena officials in Nairobi have also recorded statements and from Monday next week it will be the turn of other Cabinet secretaries adversely mentioned.

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