The Star (Nairobi)

25 July 2012

Kenya: MPs Probe Italy's Project in Magarini

A joint parliamentary committee in higher education science and technology yesterday began investigating a multi-billion dollar World Space Centre agreement in Ngomeni, Magarini district. The move follows a heated debate raised in Parliament early this year over the agreement between an Italian agency and Kenya in 1964 for rocket launchers to satellite, telemetry, remote sensing image acquisition, tracking and command at the centre.

The Parliamentary Committee on Energy Information and Communications Committee together with the Committee on Education science and technology expressed concern about the benefits of the Italian-owned space agency to the Kenyan government. Their investigations come a time when the 15-year-old permit expired in December last year and was extended for a year since January as negotiations for renewal continue.

It emerged that the space agency, the only one of kind in Africa and the sixth in the world, operated under instructions from Italy and very little information about their operations was known by the MPs. During the public hearings at the agency's offices, the MPs disclosed they knew very little about the operations and revenue obtained by the government. They also said the government ought to come up with policies that would enable them set up its own space agency.

James Rege, the Energy and ICT Engineer James Rege and James Pesa said they were also not aware of the satellites being monitored in the Kenyan Soil and how the country benefited. They engaged the San Marco authorities in a heated debate demanding to know how the frequencies operated and whether there existed any satellites in space.

Engineer Rege said despite the fact that Kenya was a pioneer in space exploration it still had not been able to establish its own space agency or conduct its own space exploration activities. "The way the centre is being operated remains a mystery to Kenyans as many did not understand what was happening at San Marco. We want to know what is going on at the Centre , and the reason why Kenya has not been able to come up with its own space agency like Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, who are not pioneers," he said.

He said their aim was to explore ways possible to make Kenya join the rest of the world in the world of space exploration. On his part Gumbo demanded to know the satellites being monitored in the Kenyan soil, the one who run the space and how the Ministry of Defense was being involved. Other MPs present during the Hearing included Lari Mp David Njunguna, Nominated MP Shakila Abdalla, Alfred Odhiambo, Wilberforce Otchilo.

Other concerns that emerged were the mode of payments of the Kenyan personnel following claims that they got less salaries and allowances than their foreign counterparts despite the fact that all did the same jobs equally. "We want to get the copies of the agreement signed by the governments and the copies of the two extensions from the expiry date in December last year to June and the recent one as the negotiations are on for the renewal of the agreement," they said.

The Mps also asked the authorities to give out the annual revenue of the centre, list of all employees, and Kenyans working in the centre. Nominated MP Shakilaa Abdalla said the country has been loosing lot of revenue from the World space agency in Ngomeni as it did not benefit the locals or the country at large. MR Roberto Ibba from the Italian Space Agency said the Space agency however told the MPs that the agency was operating under the stipulated agreement that was made between the government and San Marco. He said they never launched satellites in space since 1988 and had local transmission from CCK which helped them conduct their activities. The San Marco representative also said they usually monitored many satellites and had the capacity to receive information and not transmission.

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