High stakes in Waiguru, Kibicho clash

A Level Five hospital, a university, a medical supplies factory and a medical research centre to be put up at Wamumu area in Mwea are what are at stake in the feud pitting embattled Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru against powerful Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho.

Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) had scheduled to start the project valued at Sh15 billion in January 2016, but it has delayed owing to dispute that has made Kirinyaga decline to release 100 acres of land for the project. It is about a commitment by the Kemri that at least 30 per cent of the jobs must be given to people of Kirinyaga. That is the ground that Waiguru stands.

 But, Kibicho and others, see this as a mundane issue that can be sorted as the project progresses. So far, this would be the second-biggest such project in Kirinyaga by value coming concurrently with the ongoing construction of Thiba Dam at a cost of Sh19 billion. The worry is that with further delays, the project sponsors may withdraw or opt to invest in another county. It will be a big blow to Kirinyaga County, one of the smallest in Kenya and which has been starved mega-projects for decades.

Waiguru insists her government is willing to surrender the land if Kemri agrees to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on how to hire casual workers. The standoff had President Uhuru Kenyatta on February 1 this year direct the county leaders resolve the dispute without delaying any longer.

“There should be no problem giving jobs to local people. I am asking you to prepare the MoU and let the institution sign it next week so that we do not delay the project further,” said Uhuru. Two weeks later, Waiguru was instead involved in a public spat with Kibicho over the project.

Big loss

Kibicho said the county constituents stood to lose if the project was taken to another county. He used strong words against the governor to suggest that her continued opposition to the project was a result of poor judgement.

In her hard-hitting rebuttal, Waiguru accused the PS of politicking adding that the county has already signed a memorandum of understanding with Kemri and forwarded it to research agency for execution.

“I am sure asking for 30 per cent of manual and non-technical jobs for Kirinyaga residents in not too much to ask,” said Waiguru adding that it is done elsewhere.

Waiguru said that President Uhuru Kenyatta required an MOU to be signed so that the interest of Kirinyaga people, who elected her to represent them are taken into account.

 “Is PS Kibicho now superior to the president? What is his personal interest in the matter?” the governor asked. As things stand, Kirinyaga people continue to lose out. As the project delays further or it ends up being relocated to another area, Kirinyaga people will lose out and in a big, big way. The project means a lot to Kirinyaga people and those of neighbouring areas in terms of job opportunities and service delivery. It will also be a game-changer in terms of expanding opportunities resulting from such a hospital and a research centre.

This is in addition to improving access to quality healthcare for Kirinyaga and the surrounding counties. Ndathi’s input Former Kirinyaga County Governor Joseph Ndathi, in whose tenure the project was initiated, condemned Waiguru’s administration for playing politics with a project that will transform the county. “I gave KEMRI the first freehold title deed at Wamumu grounds that allowed them to lease the land for 99 years.

We told them to commence the project and an MoU would be discussed later,” he said. A challenge however arose as the donors were uncomfortable since they argued that 99 years was a short period, notes Ndathi. On further consultations with Kemri board members, Ndathi says reached a consensus that the county government would give them a freehold title deed. Ndathi recalls that the handover ceremony was not undertaken on time because the week they were planning to issue the freehold title, Prof. Mpoke was fired.

“The one selected by the board to serve as the acting CEO stated that he doesn’t have the mandate to sign the title and he feared. And since it was during the electioneering period as the political temperatures were high, the handover was not done,” said Ndathi.

He says they left the title deed at the office of lands CEC as well as the draft MoU and expected that the next county regime would sign the title deed as well as the MoU in partnership with Kemri. Ndathi expressed sadness that the title deed was later nullified. He, however, maintains that once a title deed has been transferred to a new owner, it cannot be nullified without a high court order.

“This Kemri title deed issue should be investigated to understand who nullified it, how was it nullified, which rules and/or laws were adhered to amid the nullification process, and which law should be followed so that we can all figure out what transpired,” he said.

 Ndathi advises that there be no turf wars between Kirinyaga County government and Kemri since it is a simple issue that can be solved amicably without escalating the dispute resulting in exchange of words amongst Kirinyaga leaders.

The county government has been under fire in the past from local leaders, especially Mwea MP Wachira Kabinga and Woman Representative Wangui, for the stand-off with Kemri. The project has also been put to a halt by court order following an injunction filed by a resident barring Kemri from undertaking any development on the parcel of land for failing to hold public participation before the project commenced. Kirnyaga Senator Charless Kibiru weighed into the issue calling into Kirinyaga leaders to forthwith cease infightings that has in the past led to the county missing opportunities.

“The Kirinyaga of the yesteryears must be buried in total. We don’t need to be in front pages and trending in the social media for the wrong reasons. We have been there before and missed a lot of opportunities,” he cautioned.