Ukur Yatani: DP Rigathi Gachagua's office asked for over Sh1 billion before swearing-in

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua with his spouse Pastor Dorcas Gachagua. [DPPS]

The storm kicked by the Controller of Budget imploded further on Wednesday with fresh revelations that Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua's office demanded Sh1.59 billion two days after the Supreme Court confirmed Kenya Kwanza's victory.

In a no-holds-barred response, former Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani claimed he received a request "on behalf" of Gachagua for approval of the money, using the same route he approved the Sh15 billion in the last days of former President Uhuru Kenyatta's regime.

Under the route, the national government is allowed to spend money that has not been approved by Parliament if the approved allocation was insufficient or a need has arisen.

However, when this happens, Parliament is required under Article 223 of the Constitution to regularise the spending in two months. If Parliament is not sitting at the time, the law allows it to revisit the matter the first two weeks of its next sitting.

"It included Sh300 million for cars and Sh330 million for hospitality, a request that I did not grant in full but considered an amount of Sh500 million due to the financial constraints we had at that time," revealed Yatani.

On Tuesday, the Controller of Budget Mary Nyakang'o told a parliamentary committee that Article 223 was being abused, and sought Parliament's help to review it. She, however, noted that there was no irregularity in the government seeking expenditure approvals at whatever stage of its regime, stating that her office "does not stop working".

Dr Nyakang'o had appeared before the National Assembly Public Petitions Committee, which is investigating claims by Consumers Federation of Kenya Secretary-General Stephen Mutoro that Sh55 billion was spent without the National Assembly's approval between July and August last year.

She presented WhatsApp chats between her and Yatani to demonstrate that she was put under pressure to approve expenditure. The messages showed Yatani pleading for approvals, invoking former President Uhuru's name.

But on Wednesday, March 8, Yatani dismissed the claim as choreographed.

In letters seen by The Standard, Gachagua's Sh1.59 billion "urgent" demand was issued by former Comptroller of State House Kinuthia Mbugua on September 7.

Kinuthia said the DP's office was experiencing "increased activities" including "the need to facilitate activities and programs for the Office of the Spouse of the DP." He said the money previously allocated to the DP's office was not sufficient.

On the week of their inauguration, Gachagua claimed they found empty coffers: "We have inherited a dilapidated economy. We have found empty coffers. There is barely any money in this country and we are starting from scratch," he said on September 18.

But in the letter, he invoked the same law that Yatani has used to demand immediate allocations.

"The purpose of this letter therefore is to request kind consideration and approval of the requested additional funds of Sh1,590 million under Article 223 of the Constitution for the Office of the DP to effectively execute its mandate," wrote Kinuthia.

Besides cars and hospitality, the DP's office also asked for Sh550 million for "other operating expenses", Sh140 million for domestic travel, Sh70 million for maintenance of vehicles, and Sh50 million for refurbishment of buildings. The Treasury was also asked to release Sh50 million, fuel Sh40 million to facilitate purchase of fittings, Sh40 million for foreign travel and maintenance of buildings Sh20 million.

Yatani responded on September 21, a week into Ruto's presidency following his swearing-in on September 13.

"Please ensure that the additional funding of Sh500 million is reflected in FY 2022/23 Supplementary Estimates No 1 of your vote, and strict adherence to the Public Finance Management Act, 2012."

Yatani said there was nothing irregular on the Sh15 billion he released. He said the monies were meant for fuel and maize subsidies, important road construction project and priority military hospital. He also claimed that Ruto's regime has since sought Sh127.5 billion under the same formula.

"The expenditure was approved by the Controller of Budget using the same constitutional provisions that applied to the said Sh15 billion that I had approved and which she now says are irregular. This begs the question: What makes this approval of Sh15 billion 'sneaky' and that of the Sh127.5 billion before parliament and mostly under the current government legitimate?" he said.

Sluggish COB?

He also wondered why the Sh15 billion made it into the supplementary budget if it was theft. He accused Dr Nyakang'o of cherry-picking, weaponizing her office, contradicting herself, calculated malice and having been too slow for Kenyatta administration. "The purported coercion through WhatsApp messages was a selective devise. She should reveal to the public how many times I pressured her because she could not keep up with the speed of the then administration," he said.

He said the expenditures and projects were exhaustively discussed and necessary approvals granted by the concerned internal organs of government including the Cabinet and the National Security Council.

"As an independent office, the COB owes Kenyans an explanation as to why she released exchequer to the accounting officers of ministries if in her view they were illegal, not forgetting that she gave her approvals in writing both to the National Treasury and in her official communication to the National Assembly," he said.

In one approval, Dr Nyakang'o authorised Sh16 billion to the Ministry of Mining on August 31. The money was meant for fuel subsidy. "I hereby grant approval," she wrote.

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