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Uhuru Kenyatta’s pandora's box remains shut despite promises

By Josphat Thiong'o | October 29th 2021
President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking during this year's Mashujaa Day celebrations at the Wanguru Stadium in Kirinyaga county. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

From contractual agreements with foreign countries to internal audits and now claims of the first family having stashed billions in offshore accounts, President Uhuru Kenyatta continues to keep Kenyans hopefuls that he will heed the promise.

The Commander in Chief (CiC) has in the recent past vowed to unearth and ensure reports are availed to address various matters striking at the heart of the nation but years on, he remains lull- seemingly hoping that the public will forget and move on.

The latest case in point, in the Pandora papers leak through a report published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) linking the first family to foreign firms.

The papers exposed the first families’ vast wealth abroad and 13 secretly owned offshore companies that have been in existence for decades. The icing on the cake is the approximately Sh3 billion stashed in offshore accounts.

Following the leak early this month, President Uhuru issued a statement through StateHouse Spokesperson Kanze Dena-Mararo while on an official trip to Ethiopia, seemingly welcoming the report as he affirmed that it will enhance financial transparency and openness in Kenya and globally.

"The movement of illicit funds, proceeds of crime and corruption thrive in an environment of secrecy and darkness," said Kenyatta.

He added, "The Pandora Papers and subsequent follow-up audits will lift that veil of secrecy and darkness for those who cannot explain their assets or wealth."

The President did not however address the reports' claims on the Kenyatta family wealth, only saying he would "respond comprehensively" on returning from his trips to the Americas.

Weeks later after returning from his foreign trips, Uhuru is yet to give a comprehensive report in response to the expose.

But Dena-Mararo yesterday said that President Kenyatta would still issue a report on the same in due time.

“He will do it. We will let the country know when the President will give the status report,” said Kanze.

But this is not the first time that the Head of State has made an unfilled promise.

In 2018, President Kenyatta ordered that all public servants undergo a compulsory lifestyle audit to account for their sources of wealth.

Buoyed by a spate of financial scandals that rocked the country at the time, he also ordered that all heads of procurement and accounting units be vetted again. He said the vetting would include subjecting the officers to polygraph tests to determine integrity.

Kenyatta offered himself to be the first leader to undergo the audit that sought to identify corrupt public officials, saying the lifestyle audits would control the misuse of public funds. He said public servants would be required to explain their sources of wealth with an aim of weeding out those found to have plundered government funds.

“You have to tell us, this is the house you have, this is your salary, how were you able to afford it? This car that you bought, (don’t try to put it under your wife's name or son's name, we will still know it is yours), where did you get it? You must explain and I will be the first person to undergo the lifestyle audit," he said.

The announcement came following revelations that millions of dollars were lost in various government agencies through corrupt deals that involved government officials leading to the arrest of more than 40 government officials, including business people.

It also came against the backdrop of an index report that showed Kenya scored 28 points out of 100 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International.

And three years later, the head of state is yet to conduct a lifestyle audit on himself and neither have public servants been subjected to polygraph tests.

Then there’s the promise where Kenyatta vowed to make public the hard copy original contract between Kenya and China on the construction and maintenance of the Standard Gauge Railway(SGR).

During a live, televised round table interview from State House Mombasa in December 2018, President Uhuru refuted claims that the port of Mombasa risked being taken over by china should Kenya default on the payment of the $3.2billion loan borrowed from China for the construction of the SGR.

To buttress his point, he told journalists present at the interview that he would furnish them with a copy of the contract for scrutiny.

This was after the then Auditor General Edward Ouko- through a report to parliament a week earlier, said that the assets of Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) were used as collateral for the SGR loans.

“The agreement provides that each of the borrowers agree that any proceedings against them or their assets (present or future) in connection with the agreement, no immunity from such proceedings shall be claimed by it or with respect to its assets and they irrevocably waive any right of immunity whether characterized as sovereign immunity or otherwise,” said the report.

A fact check by the Standard however reveals that three years later, there’s still scanty details about the deal in the public domain and we can confirm that the Head of State is yet to provide a copy of the SGR contract.

Another incidence was when President Kenyatta in August 2020 ordered for a probe into the affairs of the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA) following theft of public funds through unscrupulous tenders and supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Given the public interest on the matter, Uhuru issued investigative agencies 21 days to launch a probe into the matter and conclude the same within 21 days.

"All persons found to be culpable from the ongoing investigations on Covid funds should be brought to book notwithstanding their social status or political affiliations."

The directive came hot on the heels of an audit that exposed procurement and financial irregularities that put at risk more than Sh100 billions of donor funds and taxpayers' money.

Notably, up to date, the matter has not been concluded and is still before the National Assembly committees with indications pointing to a possibility that the probe will drag on until the 2022 general elections.

Moreover, Medical Equipment Service (MES), a project that saw governors sign MoUs to  lease the equipment for a period of seven years where each county would pay Sh95.7 billion annually, initiated in 2015.

Although the county bosses faulted the move demanding that the contracts signed with seven international firms be made public, nothing has happened today, instead the initial cost of Sh38billion ballooned to Sh 63billion. The program targeted  94 hospitals in the counties.

The deal included provision of X-ray, ultrasound and dialysis machines, among others. 

The contentious project initially put the national government at odds with governors, all of whom had boycotted the much-hyped project announcement by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The county bosses were raising tough questions about why the government chose a leasing arrangement that was renewable every seven years instead of outright purchase of the medical equipment.

They even went to court challenging the legality of the scheme.

After a meeting in State House, however, the governors were convinced to sign the lease agreement contracts that to date are still shrouded in secrecy.

Unless the head of state makes public the contracts, the public will remain in the dark on a matter that pundits have claimed already reeks of corruption.

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