MPs kick up storm over Ruto’s Sh5.3b Busia project launch
Mercy Mwai and Seth Onyango
Deputy President William Ruto faces a new wave of criticism following reports from Parliament that he was using government projects to promote his 2022 political agenda.
In the latest reports, Members of Parliament heard that the DP hurriedly launched a Sh5.3 billion irrigation project in Busia county that was still at the proposal stage.
On Monday, the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) raised questions over Ruto’s decision to commission the Lower Nzoia Irrigation and Flood Mitigation Project on June 7, without involving key officials from the parent ministries.
It emerged that the project was not only at the nascent stages but underlying issues, including land compensation for affected farmers had yet to be addressed.
The accusations emerged when Water and Sanitation Principal secretary Joseph Irungu, National Land Commission (NLC) officials and those from the National Irrigation Board (NIB) appeared before PAC, which is chaired by Ugenya MP Opiyo Wandayi.
When asked whether Water Cabinet secretary Simon Chelugui was present at the launch, the PS said that he (Chelugui) attended the function but clarified that the ministry had not received official communication about the function.
“I cannot confirm that the CS was not contacted; normally we are contacted in writing but so far, my office has not received such a letter.
Should I have received it, I would have advised that it was not the right time to launch the project,” said the PS.
Wandayi and Rarieda MP Otiende Amolo sought to know whether government protocol had been breached when Ruto disregarded line ministries to launch such a big project.
“Is it that the DP misled the country by launching a non-existent project? Please tell this committee what happened,” Amolo prodded.
Contacted yesterday, the DP’s director of Communications David Mugonyi said Ruto did not launch any irrigation scheme in Trans Nzoia as he was in the area to inspect development projects, “that one included”.
“Both the CS and his PS must have been given wrong information. The DP was in the area to inspect development projects and not to launch anything,” Mugonyi said.
Controversy about premature launch of the irrigation project is likely to give the DP’s detractors fresh ammunition in the raging debate over his alleged premature campaigns for the 2022 election.
News of the launch comes slightly more than a year since President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the freezing of new government projects until those already commissioned are completed.
The President issued the directive to government accounting officers whom he warned would be held responsible should they sanction new projects without express authority from the National Treasury.
The Head of State issued the directive at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre when he addressed principal secretaries, parastatal heads, vice chancellors of public universities and chairmen of State corporations.
The directive was aimed at stopping wastage of public resources and the habit of State agencies abandoning incomplete projects and jumping onto new ones.
At Monday’s PAC meeting, the matter came up after PS Irungu told MPs that the project should not have been launched because there were pending issues including compensating affected persons in Busia and Siaya counties.
He told MPs that normally, before such a launch, his office would have received a formal letter indicating that the Deputy President would be available to launch the project.
“I can assure you that my office has never been in contact with the DP’s office about the project; in fact, the project engineer was nowhere near.
Compensation issues are sensitive matters which must be handled with care,” he said.
On its part, the NLC, whose role is to acquire land for public projects, told the House committee that they had not been informed about the launch and thus did not take part in the exercise.
However, NIB chief executive Gitonga Mugambi, said he had been instructed to attend the launch by then Irrigation PS Fred Sigor.
Although he travelled to the area, his office did not take part in the said launch. The board is the implementing agency.