Four ministers hand in luxury cars

The new Volkswagen Passat cars, that the Kenyan Government purchased at Sh3.7 million each, in Nairobi on Wednesday . Photo/PHOEBE OKALL

Four Cabinet ministers on Wednesday surrendered their fuel guzzling, top of the range vehicles at the expiry of a deadline issued by Treasury.

One assistant minister, 10 permanent secretaries and dozens of top public officials also handed in their vehicles in exchange for the new Volkswagen Passat cars. The remaining 39 ministers and 49 assistant ministers have until Friday to abide by the policy that was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2009 budget.

A slow exercise

Cabinet ministers Joseph Nyaga (Co-operative Development), Chirau Mwakwere (Transport), Franklin Bett (Roads), William ole Ntimama (Heritage) and assistant minister Asman Kamama (Higher Education) turned up to hand over their vehicles.

By Wednesday evening, 51 brand new VW Passat saloon cars had been handed over to the government by dealers, CMC, although only 15 high capacity vehicles that have been in use by ministers and top public officers were surrendered. The vehicles returned were Mercedes, Toyota Land Cruiser, Volvos and other cars with an engine capacity higher than 1800cc.

Permanent secretaries Chrispus Kiamba (Higher Education), Seno Nyakenyanya (Cooperatives), Bernadette Kituyi (Labour), Cyrus Njiru (Transport), Patrick Nyoike (Energy), Bernadette Nzioki (Public Service Commission), Amina Mohammed (Justice) and Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua also abided by the order.

Early this month, the government bought 130 low capacity cars through CMC Motors in line with Mr Kenyatta’s directions. The earlier deadline of September 30 was extended to November 30, although some ministers have declared that they would not part with their four-wheel drive vehicles.

Some ministers are opposed to turning in the guzzlers. They argue that their duties require them to travel through rough terrain. But in actual fact, many use them mostly in town. In response to the complaint, the government has ordered 30 seven-seater Land Rovers for any occasion that calls for ministers to do fieldwork. Housing Minister Soita Shitanda and Gender Minister Esther Murugi have been the most vocal in defying the new policy.

Treasury argues that it can save up to Sh2 billion a year if public officials used vehicles with smaller engine capacity. President Kibaki and First Lady Lucy Kibaki rejected eight Mercedes Benz purchased without their knowledge in August because they were not compliant with the new policy.

Enforce policy

Previous Finance ministers have been unable to enforce the policy, especially during the Moi regime. The Narc government took luxury motoring for government bigwigs to a new level, splashing out on top of the range models costing millions of shillings.

On Wednesday, ministers’ cars were still being fitted with flag holders but will be ready for collection on Friday. Some of the Mercedes Benz vehicles returned had small engines, but they will not be re-issued to government officials. “ Once returned, they cannot be issued because we are phasing out Mercedes Benz from government use,” a Treasury official said.

The same official said if the returned vehicles are not carefully monitored, their sale would turn out to be a big scandal, since officials would collude and secretly purchase the vehicles for themselves for as little as Sh500,000. “Government property has no resale value and some of these expensive cars will be sold at throw-away prices unless the process is privatised,” he said.

The Passats were bought at Sh3.7 million each while the Land Rovers cost Sh4 million under the contract with CMC. The new vehicles were driven from CMC at 10.45am and handed over to the Ministerial Inspection and Acceptance Committee. They are ultra-modern vehicles with advanced security features and CMC staff had to train government drivers on how to operate them.

The Ministry of Finance announced on Tuesday that 129 new vehicles were already with the dealers and that ministers, their assistants and PSs would get them after giving back the fuel guzzling limousines. “The chief mechanical and transport engineer will keep the returned vehicles ...and by so doing the new policy will start being operational today,” the chairman of the transport task force in Treasury, Mr Donald Kibera told the Daily Nation.