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Magoha's wealth comes to light as widow gets nod to oversee estate

National
 Dr Barbara Magoha. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

The wealth declarations of government officials, past and present, have long been vague and abstract. By law, they are only required to privately disclose their net worth.

Speculation surrounds those who transition to public office and subsequently amass wealth, with little concrete evidence against politicians and public servants on wrongdoing.

The law is silent on whether they must publicly disclose their earnings during their tenure in office.

Determining the financial gains of MPs, Cabinet secretaries, deputy presidents, or presidents, during their time in office is challenging unless they pass away and the succession process begins.

In a society where corruption is pervasive across government levels, and personal interests take precedence, few civil servants resist the lure of unlawful wealth.

But is it possible for someone to be less wealthy compared to their pre-government position?

This is the story of Professor George Albert Omore Magoha.

A review of the former urologist’s wealth declaration in Parliament, along with succession documents revealed exclusively to The Standard and filed by his widow, Dr Barbara Magoha, might lead one to believe that the former University of Nairobi Vice-Chancellor is among the rare Kenyans who never unlawfully gained from positions entrusted to them.

His stance on unjust enrichment is evident from his vetting interview for the position of Education Cabinet secretary where he argued that it is illogical for a civil servant to acquire an item at an inflated price when it could be bought at a lower cost.

‘You have choices. If you put your hand in the tin, the law is there. Everybody has a choice. If the government has given money, and the money is to be used. Again, I come from an area near Luanda where maize prices vary, for example, between Sh1,500 for a bag to Sh4,000. In my kind of management, I will not believe that you bought it at 4,000. If you are a good leader, why didn’t you wait until it is 1,500?” he told MPs.

In March 2019, when the Committee on Appointments presented the vetting report on Prof Magoha to the August House, it was revealed that he had a net worth of Sh250 million.

Magoha revealed to the committee that his wealth consisted of annual income from Treasury bills, fixed cash deposits, rent, income from a Safaricom mast, and royalties from the ongoing sales of his autobiography.

He recounted that his career started in Nigeria, where he began working after completing his education on a scholarship. During his time in Nigeria, he earned more than Sh100,000 monthly.

The Kenyan government headhunted him to teach at the University of Nairobi. Despite a huge salary reduction, he returned driven by the call to contribute to his home country.

Prof Magoha started as a lecturer in the Department of Surgery. A year later, he was promoted to senior lecturer, and in 1995, he was promoted to the position of associate professor, a role he held until 2000.

Upon his death, he was reported to be worth Sh150 million - a notable variance of Sh100 million when comparing his wealth declaration and succession documents.

It emerges that he was also interested in buying land.

During the vetting, Magoha disclosed that he had bought a property for Sh560,000 in 1981, and upon its sale years later, he made nearly Sh10 million.

Court documents reveal 31 title deeds under his name, though the values are not listed. Only his East Gem/Nyamninia property is mentioned.

The succession document aligns with Magoha’s statements during vetting, confirming his interest in Treasury bills, to which he subscribed to eight.

Magoha had three vehicles, two of which could be considered classics with number plates KAA and KAG. He also had a KCY.

He maintained four bank accounts at Absa, along with a junior account, and held two others at the Bank of India.

Magoha died at the age of 71 after a long and illustrious career in medicine, academia and public service.

However, he passed away without a will stating how his wealth would be shared. In legal terms, he died intestate.

His widow told the court that he had no liabilities at the time of his death. She pledged to faithfully administer all the estate and provide a just and true account whenever mandated by law. Prof Magoha and Barbara had one son, Michael Augustus Magoha. He has allowed his mother to manage the estate.

Justice Patricia Nyaundi allowed Barbara to manage the estate but emphasized that the grant did not authorise the transfer of Prof Magoha’s wealth.

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