What you need to know:
- The former electoral commission official now heading the powerful Energy ministry was picked to represent the Jubilee alliance at the vote tallying following the March 4 election alongside lawyer Fred Ngatia.
- Any move against Mr Chirchir will add an extra layer of complexity in the alliance between Mr Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) party and Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP).
- The bribery scandal at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission involves the payment of up to Sh50 million in bribes to a number of Kenyan officials to facilitate the award of printing tenders to British firm Smith & Ouzman Limited (S&O)
The naming of Energy Secretary Davis Chirchir in the elaborate ‘chicken’ bribes scandal engulfing the electoral commission has placed President Uhuru Kenyatta on the spot over his administration’s commitment to fighting corruption.
For the first time since he took office, a member of the Cabinet has been directly implicated in a scandal where public officials allegedly used their positions to enrich themselves, if the documents tabled in a UK court detailing open extortion for bribes to offer contracts are to be believed.
The dilemma is political as well because Mr Chirchir is one of Deputy President William Ruto’s most important allies.
The former electoral commission official now heading the powerful Energy ministry was picked to represent the Jubilee alliance at the vote tallying following the March 4 election alongside lawyer Fred Ngatia.
He was later given the Energy docket which handles some of the biggest multi-billion-shilling projects the government has commissioned in its drive to improve the power supply.
Mr Ruto picked him over another ally, Charles Keter, who took office as Kericho senator.
Any move against Mr Chirchir will add an extra layer of complexity in the alliance between Mr Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) party and Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP).
But leaving him in office will also raise questions whether Mr Kenyatta is willing to match his vows to curb wastage of public funds, including through corruption, with action.
“If they do nothing they will lose the moral authority to talk about corruption, but I am doubtful that they will act based on past evidence,” said Fredrick Wanyama, professor of political science at Maseno University.
Prof Winnie Mitullah of the University of Nairobi also expressed doubt action will be taken but said ignoring serious claims that challenge officials’ integrity is dangerous.
“I have seen the chapter on integrity and leadership in the Constitution weakened through and through. Many people have been mentioned in worse allegations, including land grabbing, and they are still in office.”
The opposition Cord alliance has already demanded that Mr Chirchir and other officials named in the scandal step down.
The bribery scandal at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission involves the payment of up to Sh50 million in bribes to a number of Kenyan officials to facilitate the award of printing tenders to British firm Smith & Ouzman Limited (S&O).
Through a hitherto little known middle man named Trevy James Oyombra, printing tenders were routinely inflated by up to 38 per cent, meaning the public footed a bill far higher than the actual value of the work.
“Chickengate” or “Chickenberg”, as the scandal has come to be known on social media, is a thoroughly 21st century scandal because e-mail records were mined by prosecutors in London to offer a detailed account of how Kenyan officials robbed taxpayers while demanding bribes, which they described as “chicken” in the exchanges, an upgrade from the standard euphemism of “tea”.
Mr Chirchir is named as having received the “chicken” on a number of occasions, according to documents filed in a London court and serialised by the Nation.
One section describes a visit to London by the Energy minister, who was at the time a commissioner of the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC), the forerunner of the IEBC.
“Between 12th and 13th March 2010, (S&O executives) Nicholas Smith, Christopher Smith, Trevy and Chirchir exchanged e-mails.
The e-mails reveal that Chirchir would travel to London the following week, and he wanted to visit S&O’s factory to review progress on the electors’ card pouches,” the prosecution says.
“Trevy advised Nicholas Smith and Christopher Smith to refer Chirchir to Trevy for ‘facilitation’ of their ‘needs’ in the competitive bidding process: ‘it is important to note that whereas it’s a competitive bidding that we are subjected to at times we understand their needs and it would also be important for them to contact Myself for facilitation of such kind of needs’.
Christopher Smith stated in his reply to Trevy that he would give Chirchir ‘some chicken so he can buy things to take home for his family’. An amount was not specified.”
Many of the e-mails sent by Mr Oyombra are written in poorly constructed sentences, but the intent to rob taxpayers is plain in the demands for bribes which were the ticket to S&O securing contracts to print voter cards.
“Four days after S&O wrote accepting the contract, Trevy e-mailed Nicholas Smith on 4/2/10, stating that ‘(another agent) Dena and Chirchir will be in London and would like to meet you on Monday.’
He stated they ‘were looking for a figure of KSh10 million for themselves, commissioners and others.’”