Kenyan Foreign Minister Resigns Over Fraud
Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula stepped aside on Wednesday to pave way for investigations into the 13.9 million U.S. dollars fraud that involved the buying of an embassy land in the Japanese capital Tokyo.
Addressing a news conference in Nairobi, Wetangula said he made the decision to resign following allegations against him of procurement and disposal of the property in Japan.
“I have made a personal decision to step aside as Minister for Foreign affairs to give room and pleasure to those who have been haunting and tormenting me,” Wetangula told journalists in Nairobi. “I have made the decision on the understanding and clear manifestation that I am absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing. I am absolutely innocent against any charges of corruption because I am not and I cannot be corrupt,” he said.
The minister’s decision comes barely two hours after President Mwai Kibaki accepted the resignation of Permanent Secretary Thuita Mwangi.
A statement from the President Press Service said Mwangi communicated his decision on to President Kibaki who accepted the request to allow for investigations on the report tabled in Parliament by the Committee on Defense and Foreign Relations regarding purchase of and/or disposal of government properties at foreign missions.
In a statement later, Mwangi said he was stepping aside to “allow the competent government Organs to fully and without impediment investigate all matters of concern raised in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Defense and Foreign Relations on construction, purchase and disposal of properties abroad.
“I have consciously taken this decision as an expression of my confidence that at the conclusion of the on-going investigations by the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission, the appropriateness of my engagement with all aspects of the operations pertaining to this matter will undoubtedly be established,” he said.
The move came as Parliament resumed debate on the report that recommends the suspension of the two.
Wetangula has vehemently denied responsibility for the scandal in Parliament and instead shifted blame to civil servants in his ministry.
“The long and short of it is this; ministers don’t deal with transactions. We deal with what we are given; ministers only deal with policies,” Wetangula said. “I am innocent because all the allegations, if your read that report, apart from alleging that I did not tell the committee the truth, there is no where the minister said this, the minister signed this, the minister procured this, the minister paid this and the minister said this. But all that has gone with the report. ”
A parliamentary committee has recommended that the pair step aside to pave way for investigations into the irregular deal.
The report revealed that foreign affairs ministry officials ignored recommendations from civil servants and independent valuers to burden the public with huge bills that could have been avoided.
The Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC) is now also investigating embassies in Islamabad (Pakistan), Brussels (Belgium) , Lagos (Nigeria) and Cairo (Egypt).
The parliamentary committee said under Wetangula’s watch, the Foreign Affairs Ministry illegally withheld money from the sale of Kenya’s property in Nigeria, and used it to buy the Tokyo mission, then waged a campaign of lies to conceal crimes in the matter.
The committee said Wetangula also lied about the cost of hiring lawyers involved in the Tokyo deal, and the role of the immediate former High Commissioner Aggrey Awori.
The mission now lies in an old neighborhood outside Tokyo, alongside Rwanda’s, after the ministry rejected a free plot to build a new property in a more fashionable part of the city.
The committee said the ministry rejected the plot in the center of Tokyo on false grounds that the one bought was spacious, and that the earlier plot was on a historical site.
The committee said although the minister claims to hold the title of the property bought for 20 million U.S. dollars, its ownership remains in doubt because that title is a product of an illegal act.
The members were referring to the two agreements and alleged disregard of all procurement regulations.
Analysts say the new constitution which was promulgated in August this year has made it easy for the Kenyan authorities to fight corruption which has been blamed for slow economic growth in the East African nation.
According Section 62 of Kenya’s Anti-corruption and Economic Crimes Act, “a public officer who is charged with corruption or economic crime shall be suspended at half pay with effect from the date of the charge.”
According to Transparency International-Kenya Executive Director Samuel Kimeu, Kenya’s new constitution could help the country rebound in future reports.