What you need to know:
- The former cabinet secretary and ex-PS Gwiyo were charged with abuse of office in the construction of the Ronald Ngala Utalii College based in Kilifi County.
- The case has been fixed for mention on December 28 when other suspects will be taking plea.
- The two denied the charges and were released on a Sh5 million bond with a surety of similar amount or an alternative Sh1 million cash bail.
- As if reading the signs, Balala was the first of Mr Kenyatta’s CSs to congratulate Dr Ruto when he was declared President following the August, 2022 polls.
When he appeared at the Malindi magistrate’s court yesterday, former Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala was, at least in the eyes of the public, in an unfamiliar territory.
Former Principal Secretary Leah Gwiyo was also arrested and she appeared in court alongside Mr Balala.
Mr Balala and Ms Gwiyo, who appeared before Malindi Chief Magistrate James Mwaniki, were charged with abuse of office in the construction of the Ronald Ngala Utalii College based in Kilifi County.
The two denied the charges and were released on a Sh5 million bond with a surety of similar amount or an alternative Sh1 million cash bail.
The prosecution argued that the Sh3.3 billion consultancy jobs awarded to Baseline Architects Ltd, Ujenzi Consultants, Armitech Consulting Engineering and Westconsult Engineers, was against a Cabinet decision, and constituted an improper award to private firms.
According to court submissions, the contract award went contrary to a Cabinet resolution not to engage private consultants, which led to irregular payment of Sh3.3 billion to the firms for design, documentation, supervision and contract management consultancy services.
“On December 13, 2010, …you jointly used your offices to improperly confer a benefit to Baseline Architects ltd, Ujenzi Consultants, Armitech Consulting Engineering and Westconsult Engineers by resolving to engage private consultants against a Cabinet decision which led to the irregular payment of Sh3,368,494,779.63 to the said firms in respect of Request for Proposal number CTDLT/003/2011-2012 for consultancy services for the design, documentation, supervision and contract management of the proposed Ronald Ngala Utalii College,” the charge sheet reads.
Another accused, Joseph Odero, trading as Westconsult Engineers, denied unlawfully acquiring Sh292.4 million from the Tourism Fund, formerly Catering and Tourism Development Levy Trustees.
Mr Odero was released on a Sh3 million bond or an alternative of Sh800,000 cash bail.
Construction of the tourism college in the Coast region has taken decades, having started way back in 1996.
The project, which sits on a 59-acre piece of land that was donated to the government by Rea Vipingo Plantations Limited, has been a subject of heated debate among tourism stakeholders and coastal politicians for years. It stalled despite gobbling up billions of shillings over the years.
Although the idea was approved by the Cabinet in 1996, investigations by parliamentary committees show that construction never took off owing to lack of funds.
The latest report by the Parliamentary Implementation Committee released in February this year, shows that a second resolution to establish the college was adopted much later in 2007.
It was decided that the National Treasury would fund it to the tune of Sh1.948 billion, and work was expected to be completed within four years, under the Ministry of Tourism.
This, too, did not materialise. In March 2010, the ministry informed the now defunct Catering and Tourism Development Levy Trustees (CTDLT) of the decision to set up the college.
Upon getting the greenlight from the CTDLT board of trustees, the minister then proceeded to approve the project.
In the proposal, the facility would have a capacity of 600 students, tuition blocks, student accommodation, staff quarters, a nursery and primary school, a health centre, a public library and recreational facilities.
Other facilities were to include a five-star hotel complex that would also be used for training besides earning revenue to sustain the college.
However, later on in December, the architectural design was shot down by the college’s board in a meeting that was also attended by the minister.
They expressed misgivings over issues that included failure to adopt local architectural designs, the need to ease flow of movement, and lack of recreational facilities among others.
It was then that a resolution was made to source for a private consultant and a tender was awarded to the consortium of Baseline Architects through a structured procurement process.
The successful consortium, whose contract was signed in May 2012, was led by Baseline Architects as the Lead Consultant, Ujenzi Consultants as the Quantity Surveyors, Armitech Consultants as structural engineers, Westconsult Engineers as electrical/mechanical engineers, Geomeasures Ltd as surveyors and PKF Consultants as environmental impact experts.
Upon developing new designs, the consortium estimated that the project would cost Sh8.5 billion, more than six times the initial estimates, with the students capacity raised to 3,000.
Following a call for contractors, Mulji Devraj and Brothers Limited was selected, having submitted a bid for Sh8.9 billion which was Sh400,000 more than the projected cost but was declared by CTDLT as the one that was closest to the estimates. A contract was signed in May 2013.
In 2014, owing to a cash crunch in government, the National Treasury was tasked with mobilising the consultants to review their designs so that only functional components would remain. This was to scale down the cost to Sh4.93 billion.
At the time, construction was already ongoing, so halting it to pave the way for another design led to penalties and accruals, according to the parliamentary committee.
By January this year, the National Assembly found that up to 77 per cent of the overall construction was done, with some of the key facilities nearing completion.
In releasing all the accused on bond, the court yesterday ruled that none of them was a flight risk and that there were no aggravating factors to deny them bond. Through lawyers Mohamed Balala and Maurice Kilonzo, the former minister and PS had made an application to be released on reasonable bond and cash bail of amounts that were not prohibitive.
The lawyers told the court that the accused have been public servants and that their income is based mainly on their pension earnings.
"The right to bail is a constitutional right....the court should not be swayed by the amounts of money (indicated on the charge), the accused are not a flight risk and are ready to attend court when needed, " argued Mr Balala’s lawyer.
Through lawyer Minyazi Lucky, Mr Odero had sought to be released on bond, submitting that he was sickly.
The case has been fixed for mention on December 28 when other suspects will be presented in court to take plea.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission in a statement urged the remaining suspects on the list to surrender at Integrity Centre or at the nearest regional anti-graft offices. They include former top officials of the Tourism Fund and private contractors.
From his rise as Mombasa mayor to a fiery politician then one of the longest-serving ministers in the governments of presidents Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta, Najib Balala’s career has been illustrious.
He made a name in political circles as Mombasa mayor in the late 90s when he received accolades for his efforts to uplift the tourism sector.
His political muscle would be more evident over the years as he became close to all national heavyweights including Kibaki, Uhuru, President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
This enabled him to serve in the government as a minister for two decades, to a point that when the current regime was taking over, Kenyans on social media kept on guessing whether Mr Balala would once again be among the Cabinet Secretaries in the Kenya Kwanza government.
As if reading the signs, he was the first of Mr Kenyatta’s CSs to congratulate Dr Ruto when he was declared President following the August, 2022 polls.
"I am happy and humbled and I thank President Uhuru Kenyatta for giving me the chance to serve the nation and I welcome President Ruto and I am ready to serve in his government whenever it’s necessary,” he said.
However, hoteliers urged him to hang his boots after serving for 20 years and give way to fresh blood.
The former Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary would later be appointed Vice President of Fauna Flora International, a conservation charity organisation.
In 2002, he was appointed the Gender, Sports and Culture Minister in Mr Kibaki’s government following his election as Mvita MP through the National Rainbow Coalition.
He would later be moved to National Heritage in the Office of the President in 2004 before being sacked at a time when President Kibaki purged those who campaigned against the draft constitution in the 2005 referendum.
After the 2007 post-election violence, Mr Balala returned to the Cabinet in the Tourism docket in the Government of National Unity, following a political deal between Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga.
In 2012, Mr Balala teamed up with Uhuru, Ruto and Ms Charity Ngilu to form the Jubilee Summit.
At the time, he had formed his party, the Republican Congress Party, which he used to vie for the Mombasa senatorial seat in the 2013 election but lost to Wiper’s Omar Hassan. He was later appointed the Cabinet Secretary for Mining in Mr Kenyatta’s government.
In 2017, he was retained in the Cabinet when President Kenyatta won a second term. He was the only CS from the Coast region.