Top Kenyan officials step aside over embassy scam


Kenya’s foreign affairs minister and another top official in his department stepped aside under pressure to give investigators room to look into a scandal over the purchase of embassy buildings.

Four high-profile officials have now come under fire over corruption accusations this week in a sign President Mwai Kibaki’s government is stepping up its long-promised war against the graft that has blighted east Africa’s biggest economy.

Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula and his permanent secretary Thuita Mwangi have been under public and media pressure since a parliamentary committee recommended they quit and stand trial for authorising payment for new embassies at inflated prices, Reuters reports.

Parliament overwhelmingly voted to adopt the report hours after Wetangula and Thuita voluntarily relinquished their duties. Wetangula said he was confident any investigation would exonerate him from wrongdoing.
“There is something positive to this, that we can have people like Wetangula mentioned in a report and step aside without being convicted,” said political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi.

At least six other ministers have been suspended, or have stepped aside, over graft allegations since Kibaki came to office in 2002. Five were cleared of the allegations, which never made it to court, and four regained their cabinet seats.
“We’ve seen this before, ministers stepping aside then making a comeback. They are gambling on public amnesia,” said Gladwell Otieno, executive director of Africa Centre for Open Governance.

Kibaki came to power on an anti-graft platform, but his record on fighting corruption has failed to impress critics and Kenyan media have been replete with numerous scandals.

No minister has been convicted of graft in Kenya, where sleaze has spread from politicians, to civil servants, private business and ordinary Kenyans who part with smalls sums of money for favours in government offices.


Kibaki stressed on Wednesday that corruption by public servants would no longer be tolerated.
“It is high time people changed attitude and became satisfied with their rightful salaries and wages instead of misappropriating public funds,” he said in a statement.
“All relevant government departments have been instructed to speedily conclude any pending cases of corruption,” he said.

Kenyan media say the embassy scam is yet another scandal involving top government officials in a country where corruption is viewed as endemic, and one of the most pressing concerns choking investment in east Africa’s biggest economy.

The Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations report says Kenya lost $14 million in a deal to buy a new embassy in Japan, and more money was lost in deals to buy embassies in Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Belgium.
“I am absolutely clear that I have played no role in the formulation, execution or in any matter in the transactions that are being talked about,” Wetangula told a news conference.
“I have made a personal decision to step aside from my responsibilities … to give room to the able arms of the investigation to carry out investigations,” he said.

The investigation comes in a week that has seen a number of high-profile government officials taken to court over scams.

Suspended Higher Education Minister William Ruto and the mayor of Nairobi, Geophrey Majiwa, were charged with fraud over separate land deal scandals.