The Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning is on the spot over Sh73 million paid to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) for digitisation of land registries in the country.
This is notwithstanding that previously, the ministry had spent Sh700 million to develop a Land Information Management System (LIMS) for 14 land registries up to the 2017/18 financial year without involving the spy agency.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly Tuesday, Lands and Physical Planning Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri had a difficult time convincing the MPs why NIS drew funds from the ministry to undertake the job yet it is properly funded by the taxpayer.
"We made it a security issue because our land management system is critical," Dr Muraguri told the watchdog committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.
Flagged by Auditor-General
The matter was flagged by Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu in the audited accounts of the Lands ministry for the 2018/19 financial year currently before the committee for scrutiny.
Dr Muraguri noted that the government's efforts to develop a credible land management system since 2003 have not been successful.
He said that this prolonged failure necessitated the ministry to incorporate the spy agency as one of the entities in the multi-agency team "due to the security nature of the documents involved".
Clear past mistakes
"We collaborated with NIS to ensure mistakes of the past are cleared," said Dr Muraguri.
The multi-agency team included the other arms of government in the security sector, the ICT sector and the office of the Attorney-General.
The amount was received from the ICT ministry on June 28, 2019 and credited to the deposit account at the Lands ministry and later paid to the spy agency on August 2, 2019 for the exercise.
But even as Dr Muraguri defended the involvement of the spy agency officers in the digitisation of the land registries, he did not explain why the funds were not paid directly to NIS by the ICT ministry.
This prompted the committee members led by Mr Wandayi and Dr Wilberforce Oundo (Funyula) to demand more from Dr Muraguri.
Mr Wandayi specifically demanded Dr Muraguri to come clean on why the ministry required the services of the NIS yet it has competent staff employed and paid from the exchequer to do the job.
"Why would NIS draw money from the exchequer to do a job other people have been employed to do? Please tell us what is going on," Mr Wandayi demanded.
Dr Oundo, an expert in land economics, said he was shocked to learn that the ministry spent millions of shillings on NIS yet Dr Muraguri "is not coming out clearly" why the expenditure was necessary.
"Just tell us that you needed NIS to police yourself and the ministry staff so that you finish the work that you had not finished," said Dr Oundo.
The MPs' concerns have been buttressed on the basis that the report of the Auditor-General doubts whether the taxpayer got value for the funds paid to NIS.
"Under the circumstances, it is not clear why NIS was engaged to undertake a similar exercise that had already been paid for and whether the ministry obtained value for money," the audit report reads.
But the PS noted that the need to clean up the land sector in the country after the many previous unsuccessful attempts, is good value for money.