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Nine more in court over Sh8.5b Utalii College project graft claims

National
 Former Tourism CS Najib Balala, ex-PS Leah Gwiyo and Consultant Joseph Odero at a Malindi court on Friday, December 21, 2023. [Nehemiah Okwembah, Standard]

Nine more people were arraigned before Malindi Law Courts in connection with corruption cases involving the construction of the Sh8.5 billion Ronald Ngala Utalii College in Vipingo, Kilifi county.

They are two directors of Baseline Architects Limited, Morris Gitonga Njue and Dominic Motanya, procurement manager at Tourism Development Levy Nora Mukuna, the organisation's tender committee members Eden Odhiambo, Ruth Wanyangu Sande and George Muya Njoroge, Allan Chenane, Joseph Rotich Cherutoi, Rebman Malala and James Mwangi Wairagu.

Mr Chechane was chief executive officer of the Catering Tourism and Development Levy Trustees in 2012 while Mr Rotich was CEO in 2015. Baseline Architects Limited is said to have received Sh623,722,581.27 in 2012.

Mr Malala is the sole proprietor of Ujenzi Consultants. His firm allegedly received Sh517,384,217.75 from the Tourism Fund, formerly Catering Tourism and Development Levy Trustees in 2012.

Mr Wairagu is the sole proprietor of Armitech Consulting Engineers company. The firm allegedly received Sh49,886,175.26 in 2012.

This brings to 12 the number of persons charged in connection with the project after three others denied the charges last Friday. They are former Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, former Principal Secretary Leah Gwiyo and managing partner at Westconsult Engineers Joseph Odero.

Mr Balala and Ms Gwiyo denied charges of abuse of office and going against a Cabinet decision. Mr Odero's firm is said to have received Sh292,467,940.69 in 2012.

The nine denied joint and separate charges before Malindi Chief Magistrate James Mwaniki, who released them on different bond terms depending on the charges against them and set the mention of the case for January 11, 2024.

The magistrate at the same time deferred a ruling on an application seeking to gag the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) from sharing details of their investigations with the public through the media.

The magistrate released Chenane and Cherutoi on a Sh2 million bond with surety of a similar amount or a cash bail of Sh600,000 each.

They were separately charged with willfully failing to comply with the Public Procurement and Disposal Act 2005 by approving payments of 159,361,444 and Sh524,532,920.05 respectively in respect of requests for proposals for the design, documentation, and contract management of the proposed college.

Mr Njue and Mr Motanya and the sole proprietor of Ujenzi Consultants were released on a Sh3 million with sureties of similar amounts or a cash bail of Sh800,000 each.

 Architectural model of Ronald Ngala Utalii College in Vipingo, Kilifi County. [Maarufu Mohamed, Standard]

Their companies are said to have raised consultancy fee notes in excess of works done with Sh623,722,581.27 and Sh517,384,217.75 in respect of requests for proposals for the design, documentation, and contract management of the proposed college.

Mr Mukuna, a procurement manager of the Catering, Tourism and Development Levy, and tender committee members Mr Odhiambo, Ms Sande and Mr Njoroge, were released on a Sh750,000 with a surety of a similar amount each or a cash bail of Sh300,000 each.

Mukuna was accused of willfully failing to comply with the law relating to procurement while the other three were accused of failing to ascertain the request for proposal for consultancy services for the design, documentation, and contract management of the proposed college.

The magistrate issued summonses to five more suspects who are yet to take the plea, one of whom is said to have relocated to a foreign country where a lawyer claimed she is married and may have renounced her Kenyan citizenship.

On December 28, 2023, the Malindi Chief Magistrate released Balala and Gwiyo on a Sh5 million bond or a cash bail of Sh1 million each and Odero on a Sh3 million bond or a cash bail of Sh800,000.

Balala and Gwiyo were jointly charged with using their offices to confer a benefit to four consulting firms by resolving to engage four consultants against a Cabinet decision, which led to irregular payments of Sh3,368,779.63.

Odero is accused of allegedly acquiring more than Sh292 million from the Tourism Fund (formerly Catering and Tourism Development Levy Trustees by raising fee note amounts in excess of works done in respect of the design, documentation, and contract management of the proposed college.

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