Detectives grill Irrigation CS over Sh19b Itare Dam project

Thursday, December 5th, 2019 00:00 |
Water and Irrigation Cabinet secretary Simon Chelugui. Photo/PD/FILE

Water and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui was yesterday grilled by detectives over  the payment of Sh19 billion for the stalled Itare Dam project in Nakuru county.

The CS is said to have arrived at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters on Kiambu road, Nairobi, at around 7.30am and was grilled for more than four hours and recorded a detailed statement on the Sh35.69 billion project.

He is this morning expected again at Mazingira House to respond to more than 100 questions on the controversial project.

DCI boss George Kinoti yesterday confirmed that Chelugui had been summoned. He said investigations into the scandal had been going on for some time, and that once the probe ends, the file would be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

According to sources,  Chelugui denied authorising payments for the construction of the dam, which was initiated before he joined the ministry, arguing that former Water Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu initiated the project.

But detectives insist that part of the payment was made on his watch. The Itare Dam project was awarded to CMC Di Ravenna in 2018 and was expected to take four years. It was projected to benefit close to 1 million people in Nakuru, Kuresoi, Molo and Rongai areas.

But the construction stalled for months after the main contractor, CMC Di Ravenna of Italy, filed for bankruptcy last year, despite the fact that about Sh11.5 billion has been paid, but with nothing to show for the money.

About Sh8.9 billion was reportedly paid after  Chelugui took over the ministry from Mwangi Kiunjuri, the current Devolution Cabinet secretary.

The project, whose construction began in April 2017, has also faced challenges ranging from compensation, flawed procurement processes besides being mired in a number of court cases.

The Itare dam case is similar to the Arror and Kimwarer dams saga for which suspended Treasury CS Henry Rotich, his PS Kamau Thugge and top Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) managers have been arraigned.

In July, Chelugui appeared before the Parliamentary Natural Resources Committee and said the government would continue with construction of the Itare Dam. 

He said if the Italian firm was not cleared to operate,  it would search for a new contractor or sub-contract another firm to complete it, but maintain CMC Di Ravenna as the main contractor. 

Chelugui insisted the ministry would deliver the dam. “We have told them to sub-contract the works but retain themselves as the main contractor. We have prepared a document that will be presented to the Cabinet for approval,” he said then.

Construction equipment

The CS said the decision was reached after the Italian firm agreed to go ahead with sub-contracting only if it is allowed more time to sort out its financial challenges.

He also said the ministry could not handle the matter unilaterally, adding that they had to consult the Treasury and the lender. “If we take drastic steps, we may lose the loan and it is not easy to source for another lender,” he added.

Reports indicated the dam could turn out to be very costly should it be terminated in its entirety.

Meanwhile, at the deserted site, machines are rusting, with construction equipment and materials scattered all over. The site is, however, being guarded by the police even as locals complain that the dam site now poses serious risks to people and animals. 

The National Assembly Environment committee had been hard pressed to explain why the government has chosen the Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Finance (EPCF) model of contract, said to be used to siphon billions of shillings from public coffers. 

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