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Three CSs to be questioned over Sh29bn Itare dam scandal

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VINCENT ACHUKA

By VINCENT ACHUKA
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Three Cabinet Secretaries are among senior government officials lined up for questioning and possible prosecution over the Sh29 billion Itare Dam scandal as investigations enter the homestretch, the Sunday Nation has established.

Water CS Simon Chelugui has already gone through the first round of questioning, while others who are expected to shed more light on the saga are Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri and his Devolution counterpart Eugene Wamalwa. Police sources said former Treasury CS Henry Rotich, his principal secretary Kamau Thugge, and Water PS Joseph Irungu are also expected to provide detectives with evidence on the scam.

Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti said summons have been issued to some of those who are lined up for questioning. “They are expected to come for questioning next week,” he said. “Those who we will determine played a part in the stealing of money borrowed by taxpayers for what was supposed to be a good project will be taken to court.” He did not divulge their identities.

Taxpayers have already paid out Sh11 billion for a project that died when it had barely started. In a shocking revelation, some of the money was used as kickbacks for persons who pushed for the deal to be awarded to an Italian company that was at the time on the verge of bankruptcy.

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Although the deal to construct the dam was signed on July 15, 2015, the Sunday Nation has obtained documents that suggest the plan to swindle taxpayers may have begun two years earlier, in 2013, just two months after the tender for the dam was announced.

While inviting bids for the tender, Rift Valley Water Services Board (RVWSB) asked interested parties to lodge their documents before October 4, 2013. Two months later, on December 4, 2013, CMC Di Ravenna of South Africa entered into a confidential consultancy contract with a local company, Stansha Limited.

In the ‘Consultancy Service Agreement for Itare and Ruiru Two Dams’, Stansha asked for a three per cent fixed fee of the total contract sum if CMC Di Ravenna signed a deal for either of the projects.

According to the contract, Stansha was supposed to “advise on strategies and tactics of CMC Di Ravenna South Africa’s participation in the public tendering process or selected invitation for contract negotiation” to enable the Italian firm to develop a competitive and viable tender for the project.

The firm was also supposed to “promote CMC Di Ravenna” among government authorities as well as local engineering and construction communities to gain the bidding company “a favourable and positive position to pursue the contract for the project”.

“The total consulting service fee is equivalent to three per cent of the contract, excluding VAT variation subsequent to the signing date of the contract, which may lead to the change of contract price,” reads the contract.

Lamu West MP Stanley Muthama, who is a director of Stansha, was arrested in July and charged with tax evasion amounting to Sh400 million. Part of the money under question is believed to have been kickbacks given to the MP for assisting CMC Di Ravenna to clinch the contract.

Such kickbacks, according to investigators, could be part of the reason CMC Di Ravenna was paid colossal amounts of money in advance for the Itare Dam, even when it was clear that the company was facing difficulties in completing the Kimwarer and Arror projects, which have since collapsed. At the time it clinched the Itare Dam deal, CMC di Ravenna was categorised by Standard & Poor’s as ‘CC’, meaning it was highly vulnerable.

But, despite this poor rating, the company went ahead and won the tenders for construction of Radat Dam in Marigat at a cost of Sh20 billion, and the Kithinu Dam in Meru County, which will cost Sh26 billion.

Detectives are also wondering why, while Mr Muthama had pushed for CMC di Ravenna South Africa to get the Itare contract, invoices for the advance payments were made to CMC di Ravenna Itinera JV Kenya branch and paid to a bank in London.

Some of the money was then rerouted to a bank in Westlands, Nairobi, from where it was withdrawn in cash running into hundreds of millions of shillings.

However, that is not the only anomaly in the contract that is under investigation; Treasury mandarins and officials from the ministries of Water and Devolution as well as RVWSB, curiously decided midway to change the financing model of the project after the tender had been floated and won by CMC Di Ravenna.

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When the project was floated in 2013, the contractor was also supposed to seek financing and then bill the government after finishing construction within four years.

The tender announcement asked interested contractors to provide information “demonstrating that they have the required financial capabilities or backing, technical qualifications and relevant experience to perform the services and works”.

In essence, the Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Financing (EPCF) scheme meant that the contractor was not only responsible to engineer, procure and construct the project, but also finance it. This would have cushioned taxpayers in case the contractor failed to deliver the project. However, the government suddenly made an about-turn on the financing model and decided to seek money for the dam on its own, despite having already granted CMC Di Ravenna a contract. That is how, in July 2015, two years after the tender was awarded, Treasury signed a Sh34 billion commercial loan agreement with BNP Paribas and Intesa San Paolo banks for construction of the dam.

According to investigators, the scheme was a carbon copy of the Kimwarer and Arror scandal, which early this year sunk the careers of Mr Rotich and Mr Thugge at Treasury. The former Treasury chiefs are currently facing corruption charges alongside 27 other government officials over the Kimwarer and Arror scandal.

For Itare, although the construction contract was worth Sh29 billion, the government signed a Sh34 billion commercial loan for the project. Why an extra Sh5 billion was added to the taxpayer burden, and who benefited from this added cost, is a question investigations will be seeking answers to when they start the second round of questioning this week.

The signing of the deal was witnessed on July 15, 2015, by President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who had arrived in Nairobi the previous night and driven straight to State House for talks aimed at closing the contract.

Also at State House on that day were Italy’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mario Giro, International Economic Affairs Adviser Prof Marco Simoni, ENI chief executive officer Claudio Descalzi, and ENEL Green Power chief executive Francesco Venturi.

From the Kenyan side were then Treasury CS Rotich, Foreign Affairs PS Amina Mohamed, and Mr Wamalwa, who had just a week earlier been sworn in as Water Cabinet Secretary.

Mr Wamalwa’s appointment to the Water and Irrigation Ministry in April 2015, following President Kenyatta’s reorganisation of the government after some Cabinet Secretaries were suspended on corruption allegations, created a lot of infighting within the Jubilee government.

For three months Mr Wamalwa remained a minister on the streets as the URP wing of Jubilee was unwilling to cede the irrigation department, which President Kenyatta wanted to hive off from the Agriculture department after suspending Mr Felix Koskei.

To create the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the President had also taken the water docket from the Environment docket, which was at that time under Prof Judy Wakhungu.

On Friday, Mr Chelugui, the current Water CS, appeared to throw Mr Wamalwa under the bus when he said most of the controversial payments for Itare Dam were done when Mr Wamalwa was the Water minister. He said by the time he assumed office the contract had already been signed and awarded.

Payments of Sh4.3 billion, Sh3 billion and Sh2 billion were made before 2017, and the final payments of Sh400 million and Sh200 million were done in June 2018, said Mr Chelugui. The Sunday Nation has seen documents indicating that a total of Sh11 billion has been paid to CMC Di Ravenna to date for what has turned out to be a ghost project.

“There was a last payment of Sh300 million which, after consultation, we stopped. Treasury was almost paying when the contractor suspended works,” said Mr Chelugui.

The government, according to the CS, has limited options in unlocking the stalemate surrounding construction of the multi-billion-shilling project. Construction work stopped in August last year when employees at the site were asked to go home.

According to Mr Chelugui, the best approach to unlock the deadlock would be to re-advertise the works or subcontract on the same arrangement, if financing is secured and available, and if the contractor is willing to terminate the current contract.

“If we terminated the contract, we were going to lose the money, and if we assigned or subcontracted we required approvals from Treasury and not from the Ministry. We had to communicate to Treasury to engage the financiers to find a solution on the financing part because, even if we advertise afresh and we do not have the funds, it is futile,” he said.

Additional reporting by Benardine Mutanu.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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