PROBE - The Auditor General’s office has started thorough investigations into management of government’s fuel strategic reserves at the Prosecutor General (PG)’s request. The development comes weeks after investigations were launched into last year’s procedures of a multi-billion fuel procurement deal which saw two top Cabinet ministers, an ambassador and a secretary general quizzed by both the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the PG’s office.
Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said yesterday that his office had decided to call in the services of the Auditor General (AG) to understand how the fuel strategic reserves are managed especially during crisis periods.
“We have established that there was a crisis (when the said fuel tender was conducted early 2006) and we are not disputing the way it was handled at the time. However, now a major component of our investigations is to get to the gist of what happened in the management of fuel reserves during and after that period,” Ngoga said during an exclusive interview.
Ngoga added: “What we really want are details to find out whether there was fairness and transparency in managing that fuel during crisis periods; whether there were no double standards. Even during crises, the situation should be handled in a manner that does not defeat logic.”
He said he had got assurance from AG Evelyn Kamagaju that her office would provide its findings within the next one week.
Among those Ngoga said were interviewed by his office in connection with the now seemingly-less significant investigation into the procedures used to procure four million litres of fuel from Dalbit Petroleum Limited, a Kenyan company, include Finance Minister James Musoni and his Commerce, Industry, Investment Promotion, Tourism and Cooperatives (Minicom) counterpart, Protais Mitali.
Others quizzed include Rwanda’s Ambassador to Kenya, Bill Kayonga, Minicom’s 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.
The high-profile inquiry started following suspicions of irregularities in the process to procure fuel by single-source method to curtail an early 2006 fuel crisis in the country. Musoni was then Commerce minister when the process was initiated but was appointed Finance minister in March 2006 and Mitali replaced him.
Mitali, formerly a state minister in the Commerce ministry, signed the contract without securing a non objection from the National Tender Board (NTB) which is legally required for single-source public procurements.
However, Ngoga refrained from insinuating an act of breach of law on the part of the Commerce ministry stalwarts, preferring to heap blame on the then law, which has since been revised.
“The weaknesses that happened during that (procurement) process stemmed from the law, and it is good news that that law was amended,” Ngoga said.
The PG said that during their preliminary probe Mitali explained that he didn’t bother to inform the cabinet before singing the contract since it was the latter that had instructed the ministry to look for an urgent solution to the looming fuel crisis at the time.
But pundits say even with that, it might prove difficult for the prosecutors to file any lawsuit against the minister since there had been precedents even though in many cases the Cabinet approved those deals.
Last week, Musoni said that if he were still Commerce minister, he would have sought a cabinet blessing before signing the contract. However, informing the cabinet itself is not enough as it was only a moral practice but not a provision of the law.
In fact, Cabinet itself getting involved into the practice of awarding tenders is against the law, according to sources.
“Both the old and the new laws do not give any powers to a minister or the cabinet to conduct tenders without involving the National Tender Board,” the source.
Under the old law, a non objection from TNB was mandatory whenever a procuring entity wanted to handle tenders above their authorised thresholds during emergency situations. The maximum value of tenders ministries handle is Frw50m, according to Minicom’s Murenzi.
However, in March this year, a new public procurement law came into force to address weaknesses of the previous law.
For instance, it empowers NTB to handle extremely urgent tenders. Asked why the Cabinet would award tenders contrary to the law, Ngoga said: “It is a matter of interest to us but we shall also situate it within the context of the laws and practices of the time.”
The latest development comes when Ngoga’s office is also carrying out parallel investigations into the 2003 AG’s Report in which over 20 public institutions either misappropriated or mismanaged taxpayers’ money, particularly through tendering irregularities.
However, Ngoga said that recent news of government officials being investigated or dragged to courts of law due to the AG’s report doesn’t mean that corruption is on increase but shows commitment and capacity to enforce transparency and accountability.
“It is not a crackdown but it is a new way of making a follow-up to AG’s reports. For the first time this year we set up a special unit to deal with cases raised in the report. This however does not mean that the house is on fire,” he said.
The PG added: “Our zero-tolerance against corruption means that we are now digging in every small query.”