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By SUNDAY NATION TEAM, SATURDAY, 9 MAY 2015, Daily Nation (Kenya)
Contents of a tape recording played to MPs, which appears to implicate Deputy President William Ruto in an unfolding Sh28 billion [US$ 292 million] hospital upgrade project saga, can be revealed today.
The details are contained in recordings of meetings between businessman Herbert Ojwang’ and Chinese business associates that he made secretly and which he presented to the Parliamentary Investments Committee on Thursday. But on Saturday, a spokesman for Mr Ruto said Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia’s response to the matter would suffice. In the recording, the Chinese are heard suggesting that Mr Ojwang should allow a new business arrangement in which he would take a back seat and not show up for public functions. “The situation is now very bad to people from Ruto. People from Ruto’s office talked to our ambassador (and said) before you are working for Raila (sic),” a man speaking in broken English in what sounds like a Chinese accent, tells Mr Ojwang’.
“You will not show up for official meetings because this one is very sensitive. You can’t come out in big meetings. You hide behind there (sic),” Mr Ojwang is told. The businessman told shocked MPs that the voice on the tape was that of a translator for the China Wu Yi representative in Kenya, who is also heard speaking in Chinese.
ENTERED INTO AN ARRANGEMENT
Mr Ojwang, who went to Parliament to complain that he has since been left out and a new deal that raises the project cost by Sh11 billion sealed, says he initiated the project in April 2012. He told the MPs that by his calculations, the new project would cost a staggering Sh28 billion, up from Sh17 billion. “I entered into an arrangement with China Wu Yi, China Machinery and Engineering Corporation and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital to coordinate a business plan that would lead to the upgrading of the hospital,” he said.
The businessman said he facilitated meetings between the hospital’s chief executive, Mr John Kibosia and senior managers and China Wu Yi’s representatives in Kenya. After the initial meetings in Kenya, it was agreed that a group from the hospital visit China “to acquaint themselves with the model of the hospital and equipment that would be used”. Mr Ojwang claims he facilitated the travel and that during the visit by the eight-person delegation, all their expenses were catered for.
In addition, he says, each member of the delegation received a Samsung tablet and $2,000 (about Sh180,000) in cash for shopping. Mr Ojwang is identified in documents from the hospital signed by Dr Kibosia to the Chinese embassy, requesting visas for the team as the “project coordinator”. When the team returned, an agreement was signed and the group began to source for funds from the Chinese Exim Bank but the deal collapsed this year. The unfolding controversy over the planned multibillion-shilling upgrade of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital has laid bare secrets of how wheeler dealers and senior government officials mint millions of shillings merely by placing themselves between the government and contractors.
The documents tabled before the Parliamentary Investments Committee on Thursday show how high-level conspiracies and political patronage are at the heart of the illicit schemes. It shows how the corruption gravy trains are often branded as projects designed to answer to a need, while, in fact, they are meant to enrich a few corrupt officials and their sidekicks, whose proximity to the people in power is their most important qualification. The dispute over who should undertake the multibillion-shilling upgrade of the hospital has also lifted the lid on the extent to which foreign companies go to seal business deals with government departments, including offering sweetheart trips and generous allowances to officials in the decision making chain.
It starts with foreknowledge of plans for major projects, which brokers and wheeler dealers hawk to major companies and as they provide important information between key government officials and leaders of corporates. The brokers then earn a commission for their trouble, which at times is inflated to accommodate kickbacks for government officials who have illegally offered help to bidders.
INVOLVED IN THE SCANDAL
Mr Ojwang sensationally claimed in Parliament that the Deputy President was involved in the scandal that smacks of extortionist schemes, illegal rent seeking and corruption in the corridors of power. Now it remains to be seen whether the committee will summon the DP to respond to the accusations. The revelation comes hot on the heels of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s move to table in Parliament a list of individuals in the government who have been accused of corruption. Those named, who include five Cabinet secretaries, have since stepped aside awaiting the outcome of investigations.
In the recordings played to the MPs, a Mr Caleb Kositany, who was said to be representing Mr Ruto, said that a whole chain of people — including the DP, an unnamed Cabinet Secretary and the Parliamentary Committee on Health — had all been whipped into line and that it was imperative that the few details about how the spoils were to be shared be ironed out so that the project could start. It turns out that the Chinese company at the heart of the unfolding scandal was later pressured to drop Mr Ojwang over his ties with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Mr Ojwang was flatly told that his involvement in the project was undesirable because of his political connections. The businessman once worked as Mr Odinga’s personal assistant for about three years, but left about 15 years ago to pursue private business. It is not clear why the Chinese company, which has an office in Kenya would need a go-between with the hospital, but the revelations point to the channels created by brokers and commission agents with access to power to rake in huge amounts of money.
When the businessman realised that he was losing grip of the deal, he says, he made spirited attempts to reach Kericho Senator Charles Keter to talk to Mr Ruto on his behalf. “At this juncture I was told that I must agree that I will part with 50 per cent of my commission to the Deputy President, which I agreed,” Mr Ojwang’ told the parliamentary committee. He thought things would move according to plan and that eventually he would earn his commission for his part for drawing up the business plan until he saw an advertisement in the newspapers in March, inviting bids for a similar project in Eldoret but at a different location.
“On further enquiry from Dr Kibosia he told me that the Deputy President insisted on a new hospital at a new site and was not happy with my involvement at all,” he said.
ON THE CARDS
Health Cabinet Secretary Macharia says the hospital upgrade had been on the cards — as part of the institution’s 2012-2017 strategic plan — and was prioritised by the Presidential Task Force on Parastatal Reforms in 2013. “This project was an ambitious plan to make the hospital a truly referral hospital,” Mr Macharia said in a news release following the tabling in Parliament of the statement by Mr Ojwang.
The businessman claimed Mr Ruto forced the hospital to abandon the upgrading project. Instead, the DP pushed for the construction of a new hospital, which would cost taxpayers more money, he said. The new hospital would be constructed on a Kenya Prisons Service land in Eldoret and would cost Sh28 billion, Sh11 billion more than the upgrade, the House team heard. Mr Ojwang said Mr Kositany and Dr Kibosia were involved in meetings at the DP’s office and at the offices of China Wu Yi company.
“During the meetings held with Kibosia and Kositany, I was told the Deputy President is against me being on the forefront of the whole deal. I asked why and I was told that it is due to my close links with Cord leader Raila Odinga,” says the businessman.