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Sticking points in attempt to remove auditor-general from office

Lawyer Emmanuel Mwagonah of Mwagambo and Okonjo Advocates is the man behind a petition seeking to remove Mr Ouko from office, the second such petition in just about three weeks.

What raised curiosity about Mr Mwagonah’s petition is the manner in which National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi appeared to fast track it, giving the Finance, Trade and Planning Committee 14 days to consider it, a treatment he did not extend to the previous but similar petition targeting Mr Ouko.

A little-known Nairobi lawyer is at the centre of the latest attempt to remove embattled Auditor General Edward Ouko from office.

“I implore the committee to exhaustively examine each of the grounds and the particulars claimed by the petitioner as the process of removal of persons from office is quasi-judicial, requiring judicious attention and sobriety,” Mr Muturi said.

Once the report is tabled, the House would have 10 days to consider it. “It must be borne in mind by this House that the independent Office of the Auditor-General is the principal advisor to this House.

“It is fair that the matter be given the seriousness and sobriety that it deserves. I would not want the House to get into sideshows,” Mr Muturi said.

NOT FORWARD

The earlier petition, filed two weeks ago by Mr Martin Nkari, an activist with the International Policy Group, never saw the light of day as Mr Muturi did not forward it to the committee.

Contacted about the latest petition, Mr Ouko answered in the negative. “I am yet to see this latest petition, I just read about it in newspapers like anybody else. So I do not honestly know where it is coming from,” he said.

While it is hard to place a finger on Mr Ouko’s enemies, it is in public domain that he is not in the good books of the Jubilee leadership.

Last October, President Kenyatta lambasted the Auditor General over his handling of the Eurobond scandal which was exposed by opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Mr Ouko had indicated that he wanted to travel to New York to interview Federal Reserve Bank officials, following claims that they could have taken part in falsifying Kenya’s records on Eurobond.

Criticising Mr Ouko, President Kenyatta said: “Na huyu amesema anataka kuenda kuinterrogate (And this man here says he wants to interrogate) Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Ngai! (My God!) Anyway, you know, you sit back and you ask yourself, are we being serious in what we are doing?”

WIDER SCHEME

It is clear that the latest petition appears to be part of the wider scheme to hound Mr Ouko out of office, most likely over his perceived affiliation to Cord.

The feeling among Mr Ouko’s close associates is that the Auditor General’s interest in the Eurobond scandal and the publication of various audit reports exposing graft in government is behind his woes.

“It should interest you that the Auditor General is finalising the Eurobond audit report, so it is obvious that some forces will want to hound him out of office or at the very least, put him under pressure so that he backs off,” said one of Mr Ouko’s close associates.

Only two weeks ago, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keriako Tobiko alluded to machinations to kick Mr Ouko out of office when he rejected a recommendation by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) that he faces prosecution over his alleged role in the Audit Vault Technology scandal at his office.

TO COERCE

Mr Tobiko took issue with what he termed as “sinister and mischievous” attempts to coerce him to make a decision on prosecuting Mr Ouko over the alleged Sh100 million worth of procurement irregularities.
He said he had failed to appreciate the “sudden urgency” of the matter, given that it had been investigated for three years. He said the magnitude of the investigations would require a more thorough approach.
“I find it rather strange that an extreme wave of urgency has been imposed on this matter when the same was not there since 2014 when it was taken up by investigators.”

“I find it rather contradictory that people would want the DPP to simply gloss over the investigations on a matter of such magnitude in temporal scope as well as expansiveness of the investigations,” Mr Tobiko said.

Efforts to hound Mr Ouko out of office came to light late last year when the Parliamentary Service Commission attempted to appoint the firm of Baker Tilly Merali’s to audit the accounts of the Office of the Auditor General.

The commission appeared to have been misguided in assigning itself, and not the National Assembly, the role of recruiting the external auditor.

A SCHEME

When some MPs realised the error, they devised a scheme to wriggle PSC out of trouble by accusing Mr Ouko of compromising the audit firm by awarding it a contract to do another job within the office.

At the time, senior Jubilee officials were preparing to have the matter also referred to EACC, seeing it as an opportunity to kick out Mr Ouko.

When Mr Nkaari submitted his petition for removal of Mr Ouko two weeks ago, an individual connected with its preparation confided in Nation that the intention was to stop the Auditor-General from publishing damaging reports about the Jubilee administration close to the election.

On the face of it, the current petition is informed by what could be damning insider information from the Office of the Auditor-General — only an insider could know about the alleged Sh1 billion telephone bill and the five cars assigned to him, for example. Concerns about the qualifications of a senior officer he employed, but who does not appear qualified for the rigorously technical job, would also come from within the office.

BE CONSIDERED

Unlike the first petition, the current one must be considered as the majority of issues have not been in public domain before and are not in court. Some aspects, such as the huge phone bill, the cars and the employment issue, have the potential to embarrass Mr Ouko at a personal level. Among other grounds, Mr Mwagonah wants Mr Ouko removed from office for allegedly wasting public funds by accumulating a Sh1 million phone bill on his iPad while he was abroad. He claims that Mr Ouko travels out of the country frequently for private reasons, thus managing the office remotely and incurring high telephone and Internet costs.

“In one trip abroad in 2014, the telephone charges for his iPad line were in excess of Sh1 million. The amount was not captured as telephone expenditure in the accounting records,” Mr Mwagonah alleges.

He further claims that Mr Ouko has “five vehicles attached to his office which are used by his close family members. One vehicle is allocated to his wife and another to his daughter.

“These vehicles include two Mercedes Benz, one Toyota Land-Cruiser VX, one Volkswagen Passat and one Nissan Patrol. All of them have private plates,” Mr Mwagonah said.

Other allegations include failing to submit reports to the President and Parliament at the end of financial years, giving an audit firm that was supposed to be auditing his office other work, and buying an office at a cost of Sh10 million in Mombasa, which was never used.

Additional reporting by John Ngirachu

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