A suspicious discrepancy in papers authorising pay to a Kenyan firm, Dalbit Petroleum Limited, sparked off the ongoing high-profile investigations into the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Investment Promotion, Tourism and Cooperatives (Minicom).
Reliable sources have disclosed that suspicion over the multi-billion fuel procurement deal began when the Rwanda National Bank (BNR) blocked the initial order by Minicom to pay Dalbit for litres it had not delivered.
The ministry’s Director of Planning Felicien Murenzi in April last year requested the central bank to process payment for10 million litres of fuel to Dalbit, instead of 4 million litres, which the Kenyan firm had delivered. Murenzi was then acting in the capacity of the ministry’s secretary general as the SG Justin Nsengiyumva was out of office.
“He (Murenzi) prepared an LC (Letter of Credit) demanding that BNR process international payment to Dalbit for 10 million litres, but a delivery attachment indicated that the volume was actually 4 million litres. Realising that discrepancy, BNR immediately sent the documents back to Minicom to rectify the problem,” a source familiar with the transaction said.
“Had the payment been processed it was going to be one of the biggest losses to the state treasury,” our source added
With a litre of fuel costing Frw500 that time, the government would have parted with a whopping Frw5 billion instead of Frw2 billion.
Originally, Dalbit had been asked to supply 10 million litres but that was cut down to 4 million litres after the country received a Japanese government grant.
“The Kenyan firm delayed to supply the fuel and when the government received another fuel from Japan, it scaled down the quantity required to be supplied by Dalbit from 10 million down to four million,” our source said.
The Japanese grant was part of its regular non-monetary grants to the government of Rwanda. The government normally sells off such grants to generate money that can be put into any pressing need. In particular, that Japanese grant was meant to be sold and the proceeds be injected into the construction of laboratories of Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).
Dalbit was awarded the tender under a single-source arrangement which the process having started early 2007 under the leadership of the then Commerce minister James Musoni. Musoni – now Finance Minister – who recorded a statement with CID on July 28, said last week he initiated the process as an emergency procurement to save the country from sliding into an acute fuel crisis in early 2006.
Others under probe include Commerce Minister Protais Mitali, Minicom Secretary General Justin Nsengiyumva, the ministry’s director of planning and chairman of the internal tender committee, Felicien Murenzi, and the in-charge of petroleum transactions, Robert Opirah.
However, Musoni said that had he been still helming the Commerce ministry at the time the ministry signed contract with Dalbit, he would have sought Cabinet authorization before penning the deal. Musoni was succeeded by Mitali as Commerce boss in March 2006.
Legally, all big public tenders are handled by the National Tender Board (NTB), but in case of emergencies, the line minister normally seeks Cabinet approval or at least the President before signing such a procurement contract, according to Musoni.
However, officials familiar with the country’s procurement processes say that even during emergency situations, the procuring entity must secure a letter of non-objection from NTB to go ahead with the procurement itself.
Musoni said Mitali may have gone ahead to sign the contract officially informing Cabinet because a precedence had occurred in 2004 for the then state minister for Energy and Communication Eng. Sam Nkusi went to Kenya to procure fuel under a similar emergency situation.
Mitali has since shied away from discussing the matter with the press, though he has previously told The New Times that he is a clean man. He was last week interrogated for the second time within a month, but this round, by the Office of the Prosecutor General.
When contacted yesterday, Murenzi admitted he signed the LC authorising pay for10m litres of fuel to Dalbit.
Asked why he signed for payment of funds well exceeding the value of fuel that the company had delivered, Murenzi said: “All I did was to authorise payment according to the contract that had been signed earlier.”
He said that he signed the Letter of Credit at around April, 2006, but declined to comment further saying he was at the time only acting as the SG since Nsengiyumva was out of the country.
Furthermore, sources said that the investigations became even more imminent after Dalbit was reportedly suspected to have attempted to evade taxes “by trying to hoodwink customs officials that the fuel was for Electrogaz (electricity and water utility) generators.”
The Kenyan company pays no taxes whenever it imports diesel meant for generators that are supplementing the weak hydro-electric power stations. This was however refuted by Dalbit’s Representative in Rwanda, Richard Karimba.
“That is certainly not true. Whenever our trucks enter the border, they are escorted to the depots and are offloaded with the knowledge of Rwanda Revenue Authority officials,” he said.