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By WANJOHI GITHAE
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By IBRAHIM ORUKO
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The government has come under increased pressure to roll out new-generation number plates after the terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Drive complex two weeks ago.

The Sunday Nation has learnt of a flurry of meetings ordered by Interior cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i over car registration after it emerged that terrorists used fake number plates to drive around the city for weeks before the attack.

The roll-out of the new-generation number plates was planned for 2015 but this was later pushed to 2018. However, a change of guard at the ministry after the 2017 general election has seen little progress since.

On Friday last week, Dr Matiang’i met commissioner of prisons Isaiah Osugo and National Transport and Safety Authority boss Francis Meja to review progress on the implementation.

Dr Matiang’i oversees both the NTSA and Prisons Department, who are in charge of car registration and making number plates respectively, after President Uhuru Kenyatta transferred NTSA to the Interior docket last week.

Sources at the Prisons Department indicated that the country could soon face a crisis since the reflective foils for the current number plate are obsolete and the only company in United States that makes them has since ceased production as the world switches to the new-generation number plates.

The new number plates would have been launched in September last year after the roll-out had been approved by former Attorney Professor Githu Muigai, but vested interests and wrangling in the Ministry of Interior has undermined the programme.

After a green light from the AGs office, the Prisons Department signed contracts with suppliers in 2017 under then-PS Richard Ekai and Mr Osugo and materials were delivered to Kamiti prison.

The proposed number plates will have anti-counterfeit features that include holograms, watermarks, and laser markers which, if implemented, would provide the necessary checks that work against double-registration of cars. Regionally, Kenya lags behind in rolling out the technology.

The current number plates are not even available for motorcycles.  Motorcycle Assemblers Association of Kenya chairman Dr Isaac Kalua said that the situation is so dire that over 40,000 motorcycles do not have the physical number plates.

It is not exactly clear why the project has not been commissioned, but in what appears to be to high level vested interests at the ministry, accusing fingers are pointing toward Principal Secretary Zeynab Hussein who, it’s alleged, is frustrating the project.

Attempts by Sunday Nation to speak to Ms Hussein so as to shed light on the matter were unsuccessful as she neither picked calls nor replied to the questions we left on her phone through the text message service.

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Questions sent to her through the ministry’s communication department were instead answered by Mr Osugo.

Mr Osugo stated that the court process was responsible for the delays but sources indicated that there are currently no cases pending on the matter.

“There (has been) a delay in supply and delivery of raw materials and license plates laser marking machine due to the prolonged court cases,” stated Mr Osugo.

“Protracted applications before the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board and requests for judicial reviews at the High Court of Kenya were concluded and the Attorney general issued an advisory opinion on the tenders advising the State Department of Correctional Services to proceed and comply with the court and the board rulings,” he added.

Sources indicated that all materials have been supplied and the only remaining component was laser printer validation machine where the contractor has awarded and given letter of award.

Even as the government blames legal processes for the delays, hundreds of Kenyans could lose their vehicles after it emerged that employees of the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) are cloning number plates and fraudulently registering cars for sale.

Police have so far arrested 19 employees in a bid to smash the number plate cloning ring, believed to be aiding terrorists.

The ring, comprising officials attached to the Licensing, Information Technology, Inspection and the Registration of Motor Vehicles departments of the NTSA, has been helping criminals to duplicate number plates for stolen vehicles and those used for criminal activities.

Officers from the Flying Squad, the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), raided the NTSA offices in Upper Hill, Nairobi, to investigate and prosecute those involved in a crime that helped terrorists to stage the 14 Riverside Drive attack that led to the loss of 21 lives.

The Flying Squad had revealed that the number plate of the Toyota Ractis (KCN 340E) believed to have been used by the attackers was not a fake, but a duplicate of an existing one. Another car of the same make and similar description was impounded on January 16 in Kitengela, Kajiado County. It had the original number plate.

The raid took place as an official at the NTSA was charged over the registration of the vehicle used by the attackers. Police were allowed to detain Mr Augustine Mulwa Musembi for 30 days.

On Friday, Anthony Kadu, Jacqueline Githinji, Cosmas Ngeso, Irving Irungu, Stephen Kariuki and Charles Ndung’u were also charged before Senior Resident Magistrate Caroline Nzibe. The six are accused of being involved in the fake licence plates racket. The police believe that they aided the attackers by issuing fake number plates to the them.



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