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Uhuru skips launch of Kenya’s first forensic crime lab as departments fight

Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss George Kinoti?. [David Njaaga, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s change of plan after he was expected to commission the new DCI lab at the DCI Headquarters on February 28 has yielded talk. The Sh4 billion forensic laboratory on Kiambu road, Nairobi, is one of the legacy projects the President is expected to commission before he leaves office after elections.

A week to this grand day, DCI headquarters was a hive of activity, with all plans in place for the event. Even invitation cards had been sent out. But the event was cancelled at the eleventh hour. No official explanation as to why the President did not attend the event, has been given, considering the date had been agreed on three months earlier.

The Standard has, however, established that at around 11pm on February 27, senior officers from the National Police Service and other security organs, together with some invited guests, were informed via a text message that the function had been postponed.

We reached DCI chief Mr George Kinoti, who did not provide answers on why the event was postponed. Instead, he said he was working on more components of the lab, after which it would be commissioned. He did not give a specific date or timeline. Mr Kinoti has outlined the importance of this new facility, which he terms a game-changer. “The lab will change how we do our investigations. The DCI will now be on top of things,” he said.

Behind the scenes, sources familiar with the matter told The Standard of a protracted battle for control of the lab by state operatives in the Office of the President and the National Intelligence Service.

Mr Kinoti however downplayed claims of infighting between NIS, Interior Ministry and his office over equipping of the lab. At the time, when former DCI boss Mr Ndegwa Muhoro was leaving office on January 8, 2018, there were plans to have the lab opened two months later.

Former DCI boss Mr Ndegwa Muhoro. [Willis Awandu, Standard]

Things did not go according to plan after the President appointed Mr Kinoti at the DCI. The changes by Mr Kenyatta also saw former Deputy Inspector General of the Kenya Police Service Joel Kitili and Mr Samuel Arachi of the Administration Police moved to the Public Service Commission.

Mr Muhoro was later appointed Kenya’s ambassador to Malaysia.

Four years after the failed commissioning of the lab, Mr Kinoti remains hopeful that he will succeed where his predecessor failed.

Among the new components Kinoti wants included is a state of the art range that will see officers train without moving to Magadi. “The date when the laboratory will be opened is not important at this point. We are concentrating on building a lab that will make the DCI a hub of investigations in Africa,” he said.

The facility is expected to have 10 specialised scientific state of the art laboratories complementing each other.

They are forensic fingerprint identification, forensic document examination, forensic ballistics, forensic chemistry, forensic biology, forensic imaging and acoustics, forensic evidence management, forensic crime scene investigations, forensic digital, and the forensic bomb and hazardous materials.

Other sources familiar with the matter said Statehouse had to cancel the event after officials were informed that what the President was about to commission was incomplete. According to the sources, purchase of some crucial equipment was delayed after NIS was involved in procurement.

This did not go down well with some officials from the DCI and the Interior Ministry that felt the spy agency over-stepped their mandate.

This reportedly resulted in delay in procurement of some required equipment. Some of the equipment were yet to be delivered by the date Mr Kenyatta was to commission the lab. By the time Mr Muhoro left office, officers tasked with overseeing the construction of the lab had agreed that the process to procure equipment would not be subjected to open tenders.

Renovation works at DCI Headquarters. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The thinking at the time was that once tenders were opened for procurement, it would open a floodgate of complaints and allegations. In the end it was agreed that the required items would be procured under a government-to-government deal.

This meant that the Government would source the required items without opening a tender either local or international.

But as soon as Mr Muhoro left office, this plan was changed and NIS handed a role in the procurement.

It is the push and pull between the three that some key equipment are yet to be procured. Mr Kinoti downplayed these claims too and insisted that he was the man in charge. “I’m the man in charge , forget those allegations,” Kinoti said.

According to Kinoti, the laboratory will be manned by highly qualified detectives. “The officers are deployed according to their respective areas of specialisation. They have also received extensive training locally and internationally,” Mr Kinoti said.