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KPC managers' acquittal yet another blot on DPP's office

Leonard Khafafa
 Former Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) Managing Director Joe Sang (left) with two former managers at Milimani Law Courts in December 2018. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]

The acquittal of the former Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) Managing Director Joe Sang and five former managers raises the lid on the putrescence that was the Jubilee administration’s second term.

Concerning the Sh1.9 billion Kisumu Oil Jetty project graft case, a magistrate has ruled that the offences they were jointly charged with were fatally defective.

The court has found that there is no evidence to support criminal allegations of abuse of office, engaging in a project without prior planning and wilful failure to comply with applicable guidelines relating to management of public funds.

Anyone following the court proceedings would hardly be surprised by this turn of events. In a trial that ran the full gamut of close to four years, 17 witnesses called by the prosecution, including the immediate former Chairman of KPC, exonerated all the accused. 

What is baffling is that an egregious abuse of the criminal justice system should have been allowed under the watch of the Director of Criminal Investigations and the Director Of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

But all long, there had been tell-tale signs that pointed to a systematic orchestration of falsehoods to paint the former managers in bad light. It started with allegations of managerial incompetence at KPC. Then it graduated to insinuations of malfeasance before it morphed into outright embellishments of graft at Kenya’s premier oil transport company.

For instance, allegations of theft of Sh95 billion in a company whose annual turnover has never gone beyond Sh28 billion. Or another allegation that claimed Sh40 billion had been lost in a project to build a new 450-Kilometre fuel pipeline between Mombasa and Nairobi. Yet, both the Kisumu Oil Jetty and the new oil pipeline were constructed, completed and commissioned under the Sang administration.

How does one account for the harassment, arrest and charging of managers of a company for crimes that do not exist? How do people who, in the words of Magistrate Wakumile, “did a commendable job end up being vilified when they should have been given a Head of State commendation?”

Certainly, the DPP cannot escape blame for entertaining what have turned out to be spurious allegations. In many of the cases Noordin Haji has prosecuted, he has publicly claimed to have reviewed the evidence presented to him and to be satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to charge suspects. Yet, that he is withdrawing cases says otherwise.

In fact, the rate at which criminal cases are collapsing is a stinging indictment on the capabilities of the DPP and further casts aspersions on the independence of his office.

The acquittal of the KPC six ends a sorry episode in their lives. Whilst they may eventually get some reliefs for wrongful prosecution, there are certain reputational damages that cannot be undone. Nor can they be adequately compensated monetarily.

Which behoves the current Ruto administration to upend the culture of moral and ethical rot; to put to a stop the clientelism that forces public officers to take precipitate action without cogent proofs and against perceived political adversaries.

Newspaper accounts say DPP Haji “is under pressure to resign following revelations that he recommended charges on flimsy grounds.” Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang has said, “Haji should quit after he confessed to not having concrete evidence to prosecute cases.”

The DPP’s stay in office may be untenable. Having vouchsafed many cases that are now collapsing in court, his presence can only undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system. The honourable thing to do would be to resign. But one shouldn’t hold their breath expecting such action from the Jubilee administration appointees.

-Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst

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