State House official kicked out in limo row

A Mercedes Benz limousine for the government. Photo/FILE

A State House official who authorised the purchase of luxury vehicles has been sent home.

Mr J.K. Mutua, the chief financial officer, was suspended for an unspecified period after President Kibaki and First Lady Lucy Kibaki rejected the vehicles on grounds that they were bought without their authority, according to a source.

At the same time, the Treasury has hinted that it will stop buying Mercedes Benz vehicles for ministers and other top officials, because it is apparently bad for the government’s image.

“It is a question of attitude and perception. To the majority of Kenyans, it does not matter what model a Mercedes is. To them, a Mercedes is a Mercedes and it is expensive ... as a government, that is not the kind of image we want to pass on to Kenyans,” said Finance permanent secretary Joseph Kinyua.

At State House, Mr Mutua, in the absence of a substantive State House comptroller, authorised the purchase of the four Mercedes Benz limousines, three Toyota Prados and one Nissan Hardbody last month before the accounts of the last financial year were closed.

Normally, State House spending is authorised by the comptroller, who is the chief accounting officer.

However, President Kibaki is yet to appoint an officer to hold the office since Mr Hyslop Ipu was relieved of his duties last year.

On Tuesday, the Presidential Press Services (PPS) said in a statement that the vehicles were returned to dealers, DT Dobie and Toyota Keny,a in support of the austerity measures announced by Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta in his Budget speech last month.

The suspension of Mr Mutua came as the fate of the rejected vehicles assumed a new twist with one of the dealers only offering to sell the cars on behalf of the government.

A source at Toyota Kenya said the purchase of the cars by State House was a done deal and they were only taking back the cars for sale as Ex-GK. This means they will be sold as used cars.

Meanwhile, a financial watchdog NGO said the rejection of the cars “means nothing” because State House still has 149 vehicles in Nairobi alone.

Although it welcomed the move, Mars Group Kenya said that State House also had Sh70 million to buy cars this year.

The group further said Sh3.3 billion had been set aside to buy other government vehicles this financial year.

Mr Kinyua’s remarks on Wednesday implied that while some Mercedes models meet the 1,800cc limit announced in this year’s Budget, the government thought they still would send the wrong message to the public.

Austerity measure

The government is expected to buy new cars for its officials once they comply with the austerity measure announced by Mr Kenyatta.

The Finance minister had directed that all Cabinet ministers, permanent secretaries, provincial commissioners and other senior public officials who are entitled to official cars be given vehicles whose engine capacity is no more than 1,800cc.

With the exception of the Mercedes Benz, many of the cars surrendered under the austerity measures will be given to the police.

“Definitely we will not give the police Mercedes cars. But the police have been asking for vehicles and there is no need of buying new ones when we have others,” said the PS.

He was speaking to the Daily Nation at Treasury after Mr Kenyatta and the Swedish ambassador, Ms Anna Brandt, signed a Sh3.5 billion-a-year development cooperation agreement which will run for five years.

Mr Kinyua said the government expected to generate about Sh500 million from the sale of cars returned by its officials.

The money will be used in an economic stimulus package and social projects such as resettling internally displaced people.

Earlier, Mr Kenyatta praised the move by the President and First Lady to reject the eight cars on Tuesday, saying the government will save about Sh150 million.