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When even the mighty weren’t spared in fight on corruption

NATIONAL
By Kamau Ngotho | May 16th 2021
Minister for Co-operatives and Marketing Paul Ngei launching Kenatco cabs in 1965.[Standard]

Appearing for vetting by a parliamentary committee this week, Chief Justice nominee Martha Koome was hard-pressed to state how she will end notion that the Judiciary is the weakest link in the fight against corruption. Her answer was that if all systems worked seamlessly, that wouldn’t be too difficult a task. We revisit the days when institutions worked, and the corrupt faced harsh consequences

Paul Ngei, a Cabinet minister in early years of independence to early 1990s had impunity as his second name. He never saw a law he didn’t want to break. His excuse always was that he was friend to the Head of State so you could take him nowhere.

Two years into independence, he dipped his fingers in the cookie jar. There was famine in the country. The Government secured relief supplies which were to be distributed free of charge by the ministry Ngei headed. He decided to be clever by half. Instead of disbursing the relief supplies for free as was government directive, he formed a company where he and his wife were directors. Maize supplies in the programme would be directed to his company then sold to the public. When the scandal leaked, parliament demanded that he be sacked and prosecuted.

At first he made a brave face and reminded Members of Parliament that he was friend to President Jomo Kenyatta having served a jail term together for their role in struggle for independence from the British. Ngei dared parliament to do its worst. That came through a petition to the President. Consequently Ngei was suspended from the Cabinet pending investigations. His wife was found guilty and ordered to pay the Government equivalent of the relief maize she and her husband had stolen.

Ngei never learned to behave. In a general election years later, he physically engaged in fisticuffs with a rival who he wrestled to the ground as the public watched. The Supervisor of the Elections found him guilty of an election offence and barred him from contesting.

He sought intervention by his old Kapenguria colleague, President Kenyatta. When the President sought counsel from the Attorney General, he was told there was no provision in law that allowed the President to forgive election offences. The President directed that parliament legislate to allow him do so. It was done and Ngei was off the hook.

But he never stopped misbehaving. Eventually the law caught up with him for refusing to pay his debts. He was declared bankrupt, a consequence for which he lost his ministerial and parliamentary positions.

Civil servants too, were caught behaving badly and tossed into hot soup. One was Jacob Ochieng who was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Culture and Social Services. As the accounting officer in his ministry, he failed to draw a line between personal and public money. In the process he ended pocketing public money and assuming all was well. Finally the law caught up with him. He was sacked and prosecuted. He cooled porridge in the prison for three years.

bribe forfeited

Another one was Zacharia Shimechero who was head of the Government Central Medical Stores, the equivalent of what is today Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa). Apparently corruption is eternally ingrained in that place. Shimechero offence was that he took a bribe from director of a private pharmaceutical company as inducement to give him two tenders to supply the Government with assorted medicine. Detectives from then Criminal Investigations Department (CID) caught up with him as well as the giver of the bribe, one Arvid Kumar Patel. Shimechero and Patel were sentenced to serve 30 months in prison, and the bribe money forfeited to the State.

Next in the dock was the Secretary-General of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, one Stephen Kioni. He made mistake of treating teachers’ money as if it was his own. He paid for it by losing his position and serving a six-month jail sentence. Nobody was too far from the long arm of the law those days. Advocate AR Kapila who was friend to Mzee Kenyatta having been one of his lawyers at the Kapenguria trial was nabbed for contravening the Exchange Control Act that prohibited citizens from being in possession of foreign currency without authority from Central Bank of Kenya. He was jailed for 18 months.

MPs to be caned

Two MPs, Muhuri Muchiri and Jesse Gachago, found themselves on the wrong end of the law.  At the time, every ‘who was who’ was caught in a craze called coffee smuggling or Chepkube. The latter is a small town in Bungoma where trucks were parked in wait for coffee stolen from Uganda and exported through Mombasa. Kenya’s big wigs were in stampede to make a kill at Chepkube.

The two MPs rushed to make hay while the sun shone. They were caught red handed and sentenced to five years in jail and one stroke of the cane. Even an MP could be caned like a school boy!

Yet another MP would swim in trouble. Her name was Annarita Njeru the MP for Meru Central. She was accused of having stolen school funds when she was headmistress at a secondary school in Meru before becoming an MP. She mistakenly thought getting elected MP was ticket for impunity. She was proved wrong when detectives grabbed her from Parliament Buildings after she ignored court summons. The court ordered she forfeit her cash bail and later sentenced her to serve three years in prison.

In jail she reunited with another woman MP who had preceded her to cooler, Ms Chelagat Mutai. The later got to the wrong side of the law when she incited residents in her constituency to invade a private farm and maliciously destroy property. She was condemned to three years in jail which automatically meant losing her seat in parliament. Yet another MP, Onyango Midika, would find himself stripped of his elegant suit and neck-tie to wear prison uniform – minus inner wear.

Before he was elected MP, he had been chair of a trade union where he stole money belonging to sugar factory workers. The long arm of the law hauled him from the hallowed grounds of Parliament to Kamiti Prison.

Postscript: Are the head of Directorate of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti and Director of Public Prosecutions, Noordin Haji, still in town? What became of the NYS theft cases after the razzmatazz of hauling an entire classroom of people to take pleas in court in a seating that went late into the night? How about Arror and Kimwarer corruption cases after much drama arresting a Cabinet minister? Was it all motion but no movement, too much heat but no light, which have become hallmarks of the two institutions?

 

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