SECTIONS

MPs question exit of Ketraco boss amid project probe

Kenya Electricity Transmission Company CEO Fernandes Baraza [File]

Members of Parliament have questioned the “abrupt” resignation of Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) chief executive.

Fernandes Baraza resigned on Monday, a day before he was set to appear before the National Assembly’s Public Investments Committee to give clarity on queries raised by the Auditor General. The special audit on the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project has caused jitters in the energy sector after noting anomalies in the process of selecting the firms to build the plant and the Loiyangalani-Suswa power line.

The Auditor General recommended that top officials in the Energy ministry and Kenya Power at the time be held to account for flouting the law.

“It is a bit wanting that we are being told that he (Baraza) resigned yesterday, just hours before he appeared before the committee,” said the committee’s chair Abdulswamad Nassir.

Mr Nassir said the resignation was abrupt and wondered whether it had to do with the Auditor General’s special audit on the LTWP.  Mr Baraza is said to have resigned to seek a political seat ahead of the February 9 resignation deadline set for civil servants eyeing to contest in the August polls. Anthony Wamukota, who was yesterday appointed Ketraco acting chief executive, asked the committee for more time to familiarise himself with the responses that Baraza had provided to the committee before resigning.

Members of the committee, however, argued that Wamukota has been a general manager at Ketraco and should be familiar with what Baraza had authored.

Mr Nassir agreed to give the acting CEO more time, also noting that Baraza’s responses had gaps that needed to be filled. Wakumota will now appear before the committee on Tuesday next week.

“There were many variations in the construction of the transmission line and I have not seen the reasons why, as well as explanations to the Ministry of Energy about the variations in terms of delay in time as well as the deemed generated energy,” the committee chair said. “Your predecessor failed to provide responses to these questions in writing.”

Wamukota was asked to give clarity on whether the ministry and the contractor had information on how costly the delay would be and sat on it. The Loiyangalani-Suswa power line was set to be delivered in January 2017 but was not completed until September 2018.

Agreements between LTWP and the government indicated that failure to have the line in place to enable LTWP to monetise its investments after putting up the power plant would result in the government paying a penalty over the period that the line was absent.

The penalties accumulated to Sh21 billion, of which the government has already paid about Sh10 billion, with the balance passed on to consumers to be paid monthly through electricity bills between 2019 and 2024.

The Auditor General’s special audit on the LTWP project noted major anomalies in procurement of the company that constructed the power plant, with the report saying the government should have stuck to the public procurement law and selected the power producer through a competitive process.

It also noted how costly delays in constructing the power transmission line have been for the country, largely on account of hiring a broke contractor – Isolux Ingenieria SA of Spain.

The company failed to deliver the project in time owing to financial difficulties, with the special audit querying whether the State conducted any due diligence on the firm before it was hired to construct one of the largest electricity transmission lines in the country.

“The Ministry of Energy and KPLC should be held accountable for not ensuring a competitive process was followed in identification and implementation of this project to ensure fairness, transparency, equity and cost-effectiveness,” said the Auditor General Nancy Gathungu in the report, “and not conducting an independent legal risk assessment prior to the execution of contracts for a capital project of this magnitude.”

“These infractions exposed the government, the taxpayers and other partners to value for and litigation risk for delayed payments to contractors.”