Nairobi — Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen has protested the arrest of Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and other top government officials over the Sh63 billion Arror and Kimawarer dams' scandal, saying it is linked to the vicious succession politics.
Speaking outside the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) Headquarters in Nairobi, Murkomen, a key ally of Deputy President William Ruto, dismissed the whole investigation as a 'public relations' aimed at hoodwinking Kenyans.
"Our friends who are being charged are victims of high-stake succession politics and they are just suffering because of other political games of which they are not a part of," Murkomen said, identifying himself as counsel for some of those in custody. Sources said he was among lawyers retained by Rotich who surrendered to the DCI soon after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji announced that he had approved his arrest alongside his Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge and 26 others accused of roles in the mega scandals in which the government paid billions for projects yet to commence.
Murkomen and other Rift Valley leaders have always claimed that the investigation on the dams by DCI boss George Kinoti was a ploy to stop the projects that were to be implemented in Elgeyo Marakwet, while accusing the DPP of failing to handle the matter professionally.
At the height of the investigations in March this year, Ruto too dismissed the matter while insisting that no funds were lost in the project.
"That the government has lost Sh21 billion in Kimwarer and Arror dams is a flat lie," Ruto declared, "the money in question is about Sh7 billion and for every coin that has been paid, we have a bank guarantee. No money will be lost."
By late Monday, lawyers were making frantic efforts to have Rotich, his Principal Secretary Kamau Thugge, NEMA Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey Wakhungu and more than ten other officials released on bond to appear in court on Tuesday.
"Why would they rush to arrest suspects and they can't present them in court," Murkomen protests outside the DCI headquarter, "it is clear that the charges they intend to bring against them are bound to fail. They have nothing against them."
But the DPP and DCI boss Kinoti are categorical that they have a watertight case against the officials after months of investigations that took them to Italy--the headquarters of CMC di Ravenna, the broke firm contracted to construct the two dams.
"The persons we are charging today were mandated with safeguarding our public interest and deliberately breached this trust and not only bound Kenya to a loan but they ensured that the funds did not come into the consolidated fund, in effect guaranteeing that no one was oversighting its use, they broke the law on Public finance Management," the DPP told a news conference Monday.
Haji faulted the officials for conspiring to award the contract to the Italian firm in a manner, he said, flouted proper procurement procedures, and despite financial woes that forced the company into liquidation and had led to it failing complete three other mega-dam projects.
According to the contract, the project was to cost a total of $450 million (401 million euros), but the treasury had increased this amount by $164 million "without regard to performance or works," said Haji.
Some $180 million has already been paid out, with little construction to show for it.
Another $6 million was paid out for the resettlement of people living in areas that would be affected by the project, but there is no evidence of land being acquired for this, the chief prosecutor said.
"I am satisfied that economic crimes were committed and I have therefore approved their arrests and prosecutions," said Haji.
The dams scandal is one of several in the country that has seen hundreds of millions of dollars of public money disappear due to fraud.
"I know there are so many people out there who will say 'Murkomen came out to speak because these projects are in his own county'," he said, admitting, "Yes, it is true, these projects are in my county but also because I can see the deliberate injustice that is being meted out on the people of Elgeyo Marakwet by killing these projects just to satisfy short term political interests."
DCI Kinoti has always maintained that no amount of political statements will stop him from discharging his mandate "as required by law."
More arrests were also effected in Eldoret--the headquarters of the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA).
"We have more suspects arrested in Eldoret and they are being brought to Nairobi," a detective at the DCI told Capital FM News, and named those arrested as KVDA's acting Managing Director Francis Kipkoech and several tender committee members.
Others facing arrests are Jackson Njau Kinyanjui (Director Resource Mobilization Department National Treasury), Titus Murithii (Inspector General of State Corporations), Paolo Porcelli (Director CMC di Ravenna) CMC di Ravenna - Itinera JV Italy, William Kipkemboi Maina (Head of Supply Chain Management), Paul Kipkoech Serem (Manager Engineering Services), Francis Chepkonga Kipkech (Tender Committee).
Haji has also ordered the arrests of Samuel Kimutai Koskei (Tender Committee), David Juma Onyango (Tender Committee), Patrick Kiptoo (Tender Committee), Elizabeth Kebenei (Tender Committee), Esther Jepchirchir Kiror (Tender Committee), Moses Kipchumba (Ad hoc Technical and Financial Evaluation Committee Team 2) and Eng. Nelson Korir (Ad hoc Technical and Financial Evaluation Committee Team 2).
Others are Eng. Isaac M. Kiiru (Ad hoc Technical and Financial Evaluation Committee Team 2), Eng. Patrick Kipsang (Ad hoc Technical and Financial Evaluation Committee Team 2), Fredrick Towett (Ad hoc Technical and Financial Evaluation Committee Team 2), Jotham Rutto (Ad hoc Technical and Financial Evaluation Committee Team 2), Charity Muui (Ad hoc Technical and Financial Evaluation Committee Team 2), Geoffrey), David Walunya Ongare (National Environment Management Authority) and Boniface Mamboleo Lengisho (NEMA).
Charges facing them include conspiracy to defraud, failure to comply with applicable procurement laws, engaging in a project without prior planning and abuse of office among other economic crimes.
"The investigations established that government officials flouted all procurement rules and abused their oath of office to ensure the scheme went through," Haji said.
While detailing their crimes, Haji said the officials had breached public debt regulations.
"If this project was carried in the strict adherence to the law and existing policies in place to safeguard public interest, it should not have cost Sh63 billion. The evidence establishes malpractices that impacted on our national debt," he said.