President William Ruto’s Cabinet nominees for the third day fought hard to justify why they are suitable to be in government.
Yesterday, the Committee on Appointments chaired by Speaker Moses Wetang’ula grilled Kipchumba Murkomen (Roads, Transport and Public Works), Roselinda Soipan Tuya (Environment and Forestry), Penina Malonza (Tourism, Wildlife, and Heritage), Zacharia Mwangi Njeru (Lands, Housing and Urban Development) and Susan Nakhumicha Wafula (Health).
Mr Murkomen, who was first to appear before the committee, vowed to review the Nairobi Expressway and Standard Gauge Railway contracts and make them public.
While promising to be a hands-on Cabinet secretary, Mr Murkomen poked holes into the tendering and construction of the Nairobi Expressway.
“In the negotiation of the expressway, there were flaws. The government decided that they were not going to take the risk just in case the investor is not going to meet the investment target. But a proper calculation would have shown that in fullness of time, the risk will not be there,” he said.
Former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government entered into a public-private partnership framework that saw China Road Bridge Construction Company invest its money with the aim of recouping it from toll fees paid by motorists.
Murkomen said he was concerned that taxpayers would not get full value for their money with the Chinese firm standing to benefit more.
“We must change from the model of the expressway because the investors took their risks but the investors will realise a greater benefit in the long run,” he said.
The Nairobi Expressway begins at Mlolongo and connects Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the CBD, terminating at James Gichuru in Westlands.
Murkomen acknowledged there were concerns over the secret nature of agreements relating to construction of the SGR project. He promised to ensure Kenyans interrogate the document.
“If approved, I will look for the SGR agreement and make it available to the public because no one knows the contents of that agreement,” he said.
President Uhuru Kenyatta had promised to make the contract public in 2018 but would later, through Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita, say he had been advised to keep the documents under wraps.
Murkomen told the committee he was worth Sh550 million. His wealth, he said, comprises three parcels of land in Trans Nzoia, one parcel of land in Nairobi, Narok and Kajiado, a house in Nairobi and another in Eldoret, vehicles and a wheelbarrow.
Mau Forest evictions
Ms Tuya was next on the hot seat and she faced a barrage of questions from the committee that sought clarity on the emotive Mau Forest evictions and the controversial shamba system that was recently promoted by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi sought to know what efforts were being made to conserve the forest while his majority counterpart Kimani Ichung’wah inquired about cleaning the country’s rivers.
“A lot of effort has gone towards the Mau Forest issue. We have already started fencing off the forest. The President has confirmed that we will take immediate action to complete the fencing to settle the matter of encroachment. We will do the same in the Mt Kenya, and Aberdare forests as well as others in the country,” said Ms Tuya.
In 2018, over 500 evictees moved to court seeking orders to stop their eviction from Mau after the government initiated operation ‘Operation Okoa Msitu wa Mau’ following a surge in deforestation activity across the country.
The petitioners had argued that they had obtained valid title deeds but yesterday, the High Court cancelled all ownership papers issued to families settled on part of the Maasai Mau Forest land between 1990 and 2003.
The court further declared their eviction lawful and ruled that none of the victims should be compensated.
Ms Tuya also sought to set the record straight on the shamba system.
“Under our Forest Management Act 2016, we have a process of engagement between the Kenya Forest Service and forest adjacent communities –the Pelis scheme- that ensures both parties collaborate through associations in the restoration of plantation forests,” she said.
She noted that 96 per cent of forests are natural while four per cent are commercial. The scheme runs in the commercial forests. “The Pelis scheme has been a subject of abuse but it is a matter of ensuring it is done in a manner that complies with the law,” said Tuya.
Last month, Mr Gachagua sparked outrage when he announced the return of the shamba system. He later claimed that he was misquoted and that the system he was referring to involves the occupation of formerly uncultivated land and subsequent afforestation.
Ms Tuya said she was worth Sh156 million with her wealth comprising three homes–one in Nairobi, one in Narok town and another one in her village–vehicles, apartments in Narok and one in Nairobi, plots of land, a dairy business and shares from the parliamentary cooperative society.
Mr Njeru had a handful of issues to respond to, from how he plans to deal with corruption within the ministry, the Embakasi ranching issue, historical land injustices, and increased fragmentation of arable land.
Mr Njeru promised to properly digitise the titling process to prevent cases of triple and double titling on a single piece of land.
“Corruption fights back but once I am there I will ensure full and proper digitisation to curb the vice. Once we do an audit of the Ardhi Sasa platform we will be on the proper way to addressing the land problems,” he said.
“If we have individuals that never followed the proper process to acquire land then I will go after them. I will treat the documents just as paper. We will take the necessary legal actions to prove those titles are not legitimate,” he added.
Mr Njeru also addressed the land sub-division issue that President Ruto had warned was robbing the country of arable land, and which had far-reaching consequences on the country’s ability to become food secure.
“There is a national spatial plan meant to organise and integrate planning nationally. I will work with the county governments to ensure that what they do with the county government conforms with a special plan. We will have designated areas for farming and others set for settling,” he said.
The committee also sought to know what plans would be put in place to ensure affordable housing and increase mortgages from 30,000 to 100,000.
“We will implement the rent-to-own concept where rent goes towards paying for the mortgage. We will also engage through the Kenya Mortgage Refinancing Company to facilitate it get funds through pension funds to ensure developers can get a kitty for development,” said Njeru.
While promising to deal with historical land injustices, Mr Njeru pledged to continue with the national titling program initiated by the previous administration, which would see a majority of Kenyans receive genuine deeds.
Mr Njeru revealed he is worth Sh80 million, with his wealth comprising his in Nakuru, parcels of land and investments in groups and Saccos.
Tourism and Wildlife CS nominee Malonza was hard pressed to explain a Sh300 trillion typo in her net worth submission.
Kathiani MP Robert Mbiu said: “She has verbally said her net worth is Sh300 million but in the form that the nominee has filed, it states Sh300 trillion. Can she confirm which is which.’’
Ms Malonza told the committee she is worth Sh300 million, which comprises Sh40 million land in Mombasa, Kajiado, Kitui, and Nairobi, shares in four Saccos worth Sh30 million, three vehicles valued at Sh10 million and Sh20 million from farm produce and livestock.
On a Sh10 million donation from friends that she spent during the August elections, Malonza said the money was channelled to her during campaigns. “Yes, I will not deny that I have rich friends,” she said.
Her previous threats of stripping naked and walking along the streets of Kitui we were also brought up. It was noted that in 2017 when she was the Kitui deputy governor, she threatened to walk naked on the streets over what she termed unfair treatment by the governor.
“Actually, I don’t think the words were walking naked. Remember, I was serving a political office and the interpretation of my words were misunderstood,” she said.
Ms Malonza was also grilled over why she was unveiled as the running mate of another candidate months to the 2017 elections despite still being a deputy governor.
The CS nominee also struggled to explain how she would fit in the shoes of her predecessor Najib Balala who has held the docket for more than 10 years. She promised to construct water pumps to tackle water scarcity and reduce human-wildlife conflict.
Malonza also pledged to fence off national parks and conduct digital marketing to attract tourists.
Last to appear before the committee was Health CS nominee Wafula who revealed that she is worth Sh101 million, comprising a town house and apartment in Syokimau, land in Kagundo, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, and Kakamega, shares and deposits in Waumini and UN Women Sacco, and dividends from Cooperative Bank.
She told the committee she would deal with cartels at Afya House because she was familiar with some of them.
“Those are people that I have already worked with in healthcare and supply chain but in a small scale. I am sure that we will be able to break the cartels. But I will also seek the help of members through Bills to improve on procurement regulations,” she said.
On improving services at lower-level hospitals, Ms Wafula said public hospitals were ill-equipped, understaffed and had no drugs. A paradigm shift was needed, she said, to ensure they were working through proper funding.
On counterfeit drugs, Ms Wafula said: “There are labs for quality control and through partnerships, drugs can be checked before they are enlisted on the Kenya Essential Drug List to ensure they are suitable for human use. The Poisons Board will also need to step up on their mandate to register drugs.”
The committee asked Wafula what she would do to ensure all Kenyans register for NHIF.
“We have over 11 million people in informal sector who we are having issues with enrollment. We should be able to use community health volunteers to register them. We will look at ways to help them achieve the 6,000 annual contribution,” she said.
On streamlining operations at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), Ms Wekesa said: “Having interned at Kemsa briefly, I have a view of its operations. What I will bring is operational efficiency by finding out the needs early enough as opposed to the push system where quantification is done at Kemsa.”