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Thursday, 19 November 2020

Senators probe Sh570 million bank purchase deal

 

Senators on Thursday will visit Eldoret to investigate the controversial county plan to buy the dilapidated National Bank building downtown for Sh570 million.

The county said it needs more office space for the executive, though many offices are empty. It has emerged that it plans to lease out the bank building that many people say is over-valued.

The Senate Finance and Budget Committee will visit Eldoret, tour the bank building and hold a hearing where residents and leaders can complain. 

Governor Jackson Mandago and his government will be asked to justify the need to buy the building and the price.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission stopped the plan four months ago, saying it was hurriedly approved by the county assembly. It launched a probe into the deal in May.

The EACC is yet to complete its probe.

Senator Margaret Kamar wrote to the Senate on behalf of residents, opposing the deal.

Speaker Kenneth Lusaka directed the Senate Finance and Budget Committee to investigate the deal following a petition by residents. The Senate committee is chaired by Senator Charles Kibiru.

The plan to buy the building caused an uproar among residents and local lawmakers. They claimed the deal is unnecessary and irregular, representing a massive loss of public money through corruption.

The county says it's all above board.

“We have been invited to give our views to the committee on Thursday,” residents' spokesman Kipkorir Menjo said.

He said senators would first visit the building in the Central Business District. Then it will hold a hearing so residents can air their views and Mandago and other county officials can explain the necessity and propriety of the deal.

Residents through Tripple K Advocates wrote to the Senate, the Controller of Budget, the EACC, DCI and other agencies calling for a halt to the project and an investigation.

Residents led by Benjamin Kiptanui Magerer of Turbo called the purchase irregular and a scheme to steal public funds.

Magerer said there was no public participation as required by law. He said the building was over-valued and questioned the need for the space.

He said the county claims to need more office space but contradicts itself by saying the building will be leased to the bank for six years.

“This clearly defeats the purpose for which the county says it needs extra offices because it does not plan to use the building but lease it out," Magerer said.

The county assembly last year shot down the deal over questions about valuation of the dilapidated building .

It cited lack of required approvals for purchase. A report later was submitted, however, and 32 MCAs supported the deal, while eight rejected it.

MPs led by Oscar Sudi of Kapseret opposed the deal that they claimed was riddled with graft.

Sudi called the deal suspect and a waste of money.

The bank deal is the first time Mandago and Sudi have publicly disagreed.

In a social media post three months ago, Sudi told Mandago to stop the purchase, telling him, "Uasin Gishu county does not have fools."

Sudi said the county has its own land to build needed facilities at a lower cost. MPs have been invited to give their views.

“Governor Mandago, do you know what Sh100 million can build? Unless you have never built anything?" Sudi asked.

He accused Mandago of using the current Covid-19 situation to introduce illegal deals that violate the wishes of Uasin Gishu residents.

Sudi said Governor Alfred Mutua of Machakos had used Sh300 million to build state-of-the-art county offices. He asked why the Uasin Gishu deal is so costly.

“We elected leaders and will not allow Mandago to lead this county the [President] Uhuru Kenyatta way because we all know they are both going home in 2022," Sudi said.

He said Mandago had many questions to answer to the people of Uasin Gishu and had been given time to implement his promises to residents.

MCAs opposed to the bank deal saying the county had many stalled projects that should first be completed.

“We don’t need more offices in town because county staff are supposed to be deployed in wards to serve residents, and not idle in Eldoret," Langas MCA Francis Muya said.

The bank building is adjacent to county headquarters along Uganda Road in Eldoret town. 

A spot check by the Star indicated many county offices are not in use and have been abandoned.

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