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NYS – the scandal that shook Jubilee coalition and tested opposition

There was confusion in the Presidency on February 23 this year when former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru linked National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen to the multi-million-shilling scandal  at the National Youth Service (NYS).

It caught many by surprise with some feeling that the disgraced minister had settled on the Biblical Samson option of going down with all after being forced out of the prime docket three months earlier.

While the two had been some of the fiercest defenders of Ms Waiguru against sustained opposition onslaught demanding her instant resignation and prosecution for the loss of Sh791 million, more profound were fears the claims would divide the ruling coalition down the middle given the two MPs are close allies of Deputy President William Ruto while the CS was from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s quarter.

The figure has since risen to about Sh1.6 billion.

In the intervening days, what has in the past been a small yet quiet department in the ministry, only hogging the limelight during passing-out parades, would light more fires that have indiscriminately consumed politicians from both the government side and the opposition.

Sources based at the State House say the duo would later complain to the President that the very woman he had asked them to defend in the face of immense public pressure had turned against them, leaving them with egg on face.

TRIGGERED RESHUFFLE

Having triggered the first major Cabinet reshuffle in November 2015, there is no denying that the dramatic heist at the NYS has dominated political discourse this year with more damning details continuing to unravel to this day.

The saga has pushed many boundaries in the spheres of investigations. For instance, it was the first time banks such as Barclays, Equity, Family, Co-operative and many others were called in to assist. Many of them have been indicted for aiding in the scheme.

There are even suggestions the flagrant theft informed the decision by Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge to introduce stringent measures on cash withdrawals and deposits. Customers are required to fill in forms disclosing the source of funds and the purpose for which the withdrawals are intended.

Even more significant is the role it has served in demystifying the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) initially presented as the panacea to the systemic financial mismanagement in the public sector.

It later emerged that most of the cash was diverted to individuals’ accounts after the system was manipulated by those charged with running it. The fact that Ms Waiguru has not been arraigned in court has only served to reinforce the popular perception that she enjoys immense protection from the state.

Former Devolution Principal Secretary Peter Mangiti, former National Youth Service Deputy Director-General Adan Harakhe and Mr Hassan Noor, the man who was at the helm of the tender committee, have since been charged with abuse of office, corruption and failure to comply with procurement laws.

DAMPEN HOPES

And news that politicians drawn from both Jubilee and Cord are caught up in the dragnet has served to dampen hopes of Kenyans that there could have been a better alternative to Jubilee in the existing political formations.

ODM chairman John Mbadi and the party’s campaign director Junet Mohamed have been named as having done business with NYS alongside a host of Jubilee MPs.

Narok Senator Stephen ole Ntutu, who belongs to the ruling party, points out that the government set a bad precedent by making the report of loss of funds at the NYS a political issue.

“Naturally, you expect the opposition to cash in on such to try and shore up their support among the masses but, in this case, sobriety was not given a chance by any side,” he said.

Economist David Ndii argues that the Goldenberg scandal did it for retired President Daniel Moi and Anglo Leasing did it for his successor Mwai Kibaki; the NYS scandal has all the makings of Uhuru’s bugbear and could go down in the annals of history as one of the most blatant looting of public resources during the watch of Mr Kenyatta.

Goldenberg International was a company owned by businessman Kamlesh Pattni and former spy Chief James Kanyotu who defrauded the government of about Sh100 billion in fictitious compensation claims in the 1990s for allegedly exporting gold and diamond jewellery.

On the other hand, the country lost some Sh10 billion in the Anglo Leasing affair revealed in 2004 where contracts were awarded to phantom firms to supply a system to print new high-technology passports; naval ships and forensic laboratories.

Political analyst and university lecturer Prof Macharia Munene says there has never been a subject in the recent past that was so much talked about for so long like the NYS.

“It first drew excitement from its implementers and an equal measure of condemnation from those opposed to it. This is because its design was political from the word go. When you advise CS Waiguru to build a toilet in Kibera and Bondo, that’s an insult and you don’t expect the opposition to take it lying down.”

INVESTIGATING LOSS OF MONEY

The don adds that while this is not the only scandal that can be talked about in our times, the fact that it captured the people’s imagination going by Ms Josephine Kabura, the main suspect’s own admission that she carted away millions of shillings in bags will make it stick for a while.

All eyes with be on the National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi on the direction he gives when the House resumes its sittings on January 24 following a petition by Mr Murkomen accusing at least five members of the Public Accounts Committee, which is investigating the loss of money at the parastatal, of receiving hefty bribes from some of the suspects to write lenient reports.

If the senator provides evidence to back his claims, the matter may be referred to the powers and privileges committee for further action.

The President has left no doubt about the role of the service in fulfilling his dream for the youth service. In his Jamhuri Day address a fortnight ago, he blamed past officials at the ministry of squandering the public goodwill.

“I would like to urge Kenyans to draw a clear distinction between the positive impacts of the NYS programmes and the deplorable mismanagement orchestrated by individuals who were determined to railroad its success,” he said, adding that all those found culpable will be brought to book.

While nobody wants to talk about it publicly, the fact is that the NYS scam has created deep-seated suspicions between what until the dissolution of all parties affiliated to Jubilee used to be the URP wing headed by the Deputy President and TNA under Mr Kenyatta.

Ms Waiguru says in a sworn affidavit that Mr Harakhe was texted and called by Mr Duale who advised him that he required political support given that leaders from his region came from URP.

BANK ACCOUNTS FROZEN

“Duale warned that he needed to be careful lest he is used and dumped by the other side of the coalition,” she writes.

She testifies that she was herself paid a visit by Senator Murkomen who “informed me that he represented clients who were the merchants whose funds had been stopped at IFMIS and whose bank accounts were frozen by the DCI,” statements that saw the whole URP brigade mobilised against her.

The unspoken accusation is that Mr Kenyatta allowed his allies, in this case Ms Waiguru, to “tarnish” names of his partners in government without being admonished.

When the opposition chief, Mr Raila Odinga, first said that NYS had lost millions of shilling under questionable circumstances, Jubilee’s first line of defence was to dismiss him as being envious of the wonders NYS was doing in slum areas like Kibera, a region that was once part of Lang’ata constituency Mr Odinga represented in Parliament for about two decades.

In fact President Kenyatta even detailed his spokesperson Manoah Esipisu to roundly rebut Mr Odinga’s claims.

“The issue of Sh826 million has been twisted in order to execute a well-choreographed scheme,” he said on June 25 last year.

The President would later say the minister was being targeted only because she was a performer, a line that has blunted the anti-graft credentials he had tried to nurture with the high-profile suspensions in the wake of unfolding details of the scandal.

SHOOK KENYATTA’S PRESIDENCY

Later forced to take back his word when the full scale of the theft was laid bare, the saga shook the core of Mr Kenyatta’s presidency especially so because this was his Marshall Plan of sorts in terms of empowering the youth but now had to contend with the reality that those he had charged with delivering the programme had turned it into a cash cow.

Observers question the motivation in scaling up the NYS budget from Sh13 billion to Sh25 billion in a span of one year.

Mr Ruto has not hidden his anger after the former CS “spilled the beans”, accusing her of “cat-walking and talking a lot of English” while money was siphoned away with sacks.

But Ms Waiguru fired back: “Like many Kenyans I’m curious about what, regarding my submissions, has made the Deputy President and his close allies so uncomfortable that they have to comment on this matter in public gatherings…”.

Ms Waiguru had also named the DP’s aide, Farouk Kibet, as a beneficiary of the public loot.

And as recently as last week, Mr Ruto was still on Ms Waiguru’s case.

“Waiguru was running the programme when it was discovered she had something to do with the mess and the theft. We are very clear, we work with people and when it comes to our knowledge they are not implementing the programme we sent them to implement, we remove them. We take action. We prosecute them. That’s what we have done,” Mr Ruto said in an interview on Citizen TV on Wednesday in a further escalation of their war of words.

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