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Sh9 billion NYS scandal claims first casualties

By Moses Michira | May 19th 2018
President Uhuru Kenyatta lays the foundation stone for Kenya High School's modern kitchen and dining hall complex. Looking on are Mrs. Rachel Ruto, Chief Principal of Kenya High School, Mrs. Florah Mulatya and Chairman of the School's Board of Management Canon Philip Njuki.

State House has confirmed Kenyans’ worst fears of the resurgence of the National Youth Service (NYS) plunder.

In a suprise move, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the suspension of Youth Principal Secretary Lilian Mbogo-Omollo and NYS Director General Richard Ndubai in connection with Sh9 billion suspicious payments.

In what amounted to calling for more heads to roll, the President asked those who may have been part of the scandal to follow suit.

“The President also expects any public official directly implicated in the investigations to uphold the code of integrity and ethics to which they are committed and to act accordingly,” said the statement from State House.

The move marked the beginning of the fall of the man and woman entrusted with the responsibility of cleaning the mess at NYS left by the previous administration.

“This afternoon, the President accepted the offer by the two officers to step aside for a period of three months to allow investigating agencies to complete their work,” read the statement.

Earlier in the day while meeting the private sector, President Kenyatta had promised tough action against corruption.

“We are going to deal ruthlessly with corruption both real and perceived,” he said.

Ms Omollo was scheduled to appear before the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly on Monday before the cookie crumbled Friday.

She had reportedly taken a two-day leave in the week amid soaring pressure as the scandal unveiled, much to the shock of Kenyans since a similar previous scandal is yet to be unraveled.

“She wasn’t aware. She has not done or seen any such letter,” a source close to her said.

As PS, Ms Omollo, a former executive of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, was the overall accounting officer and the final approving authority before payments are made.

Fan speculation

Mr Ndubai is the final authority in approving procurement and payments from the NYS, before the PS signs off.

His phone was switched off in the wake of the State House announcement.

More officials could be targeted in the bloodbath, according to the presidential statement which warns of dire consequences for anyone implicated in the ongoing probe.

“The President has every confidence in the work of the investigative agencies, and in the event any wrongdoing is established, he has directed that swift prosecution should follow.”

Their decision to quit comes days after investigations into the NYS procurement scandal put a blot on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s push to tackle high-level corruption.

NYS is close to the President’s heart because his legacy is intertwined with the youth empowerment agency, which has recently been billed as cure to the chaotic public transport sector.

Investigators have flagged payments worth Sh900 million for the last two financial years, Public Service Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia told a committee of the National Assembly on Thursday.

She added that the investigators were yet to give their report, but the sudden decision for the two to step aside would fan speculation over the scandal.

It would be the second time the NYS has shot to the limelight over runaway theft, after the previous one cost the the Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru (now Kirinyaga governor) and former Devolution Principal Secretary Peter Mangiti among a host of other top officials. It is not clear yet how much was actually stolen with claims that the theft, executed with the help of banks, could be more than Sh1.2 billion in fictitious supplies.

A hair dresser identified as Josephine Kabura was later unmasked as the architect, even though investigations have indicated that she was only a front for powerful government individuals.

Just like in the present case, the scandal cost the job of the NYS Director General Nelson Githinji.

Omollo has struggled to deflect the accusations, admitting in the past week that only payments worth Sh121 million and not Sh9 billion had been flagged by investigators.

Further, she defended the payments when probed citing that the contractors were pre-qualified by the Supplies Department of the Transport ministry.

But no explanation has been provided on why a few companies had been contracted and awarded multiple tenders, including eight that are owned by members of a single family – owing to their surnames.

Documents relied on in the probe indicate that the payments were against suspect deliveries dating back to 2012 and had been carried over the years as pending bills.

NYS’s suppliers are demanding Sh6.3 billion which remains unpaid over incomplete documentation to support their vouchers, amid claims that payments for fictitious deliveries were being fast-tracked.

Auditor General Edward Ouko has pointed out misgivings in the NYS procurement.

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