Foreign Affairs ministry has requested the electoral commission to withhold any terminal payments due to former commissioner Dr Paul Kurgat over questions on use of government funds at the Kenyan High Commission in Moscow, Russia during his tenure.
Dr Kurgat is among three Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) members, who resigned on April 16 saying that their continued stay in office was untenable.
The others are Ms Consolata Maina, who worked as the IEBC vice chairperson and Ms Margaret Mwachanya, who was a commissioner.
Dr Roselyne Akombe resigned in the run up to the October 26, 2017 fresh presidential election citing IEBC’s lack of capacity to conduct a credible election, leaving the commission with six commissioners.
The resignation of the three came after three of their colleagues led by the commission chairman, Wafula Chebukati voted to send CEO Ezra Chiloba on compulsory leave over audit queries relating to procurement of election materials in the 2017 general election.
However, the three are technically still in office as they are yet to officially notify the president of their resignations as the IEBC Act requires.
In a letter to the IEBC CEO, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Ambassador Macharia Kamau claims that Sh178 million is reported to have been lost when Dr Kurgat was the head of the Kenyan mission.
A further Sh8.6 million was irregularly incurred by the government in overpayment of foreign service allowance.
“The ministry is bringing this matter to the attention of the IEBC as the employer for information and to request that any terminal payments due to the Ambassador be held until the matter is finalized,” the letter dated May 2, signed by Mr LM Waweru on behalf of the PS, reads.
Mr Kurgat served from August 11, 2010 to December 21, 2015, before his appointment to the IEBC.
“One of his responsibilities as an AIE holder was to ensure proper conduct of financial transactions in the Kenyan mission,” the PS notes.
Last week commission chairman Mr Wafula Chebukati told members of the Justice and Legal Affairs committee of the National Assembly that he could not tell whether the three commissioners are still drawing their salaries.
The IEBC commissioners just like other commissioners, draw salaries from consolidated fund. According to Mr Chebukati, the National Treasury has not responded to his letters on whether the commissioners are still drawing salaries.
He nevertheless, told the committee that the three commissioners are still using the GK cars and that they still have their bodyguards and drivers intact.
“They are yet to surrender the commission property among them cars, to the commission,” Mr Chebukati said.
An audit of the mission’s accounts for the financial year 2015/16 by Auditor-general Edward Ouko revealed the financial improprieties that are now subject of investigations by the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly.
During the year under review, the officers serving at Kenya High commission in Moscow were paid Foreign Service allowance under category A.2, which is for United States and other stations instead of the approved rate under category A.1 for Euro zone stations.
This was contrary to ministry’s circular in November 2012 on payments of Foreign Service allowances.
“Since the two audit queries cover the period when Mr Kurgat was in charge of the mission, there is a likelihood of recoveries related to the liabilities being made against him if found culpable.”
However, Amb Kurgat distanced himself from the accusations terming the audit query historical issue, dating from 2007, which needed to have been sorted out.
“If you incur such expenditure, the embassy would be crippled. The ministry should first sort out the mess that happened before I went there. I hope PAC will invite me to clear my name,” Amb Kurgat said.
In terms of foreign service allowance overpayment, Dr Kurgat said statutory allowances are done at the ministry and that “you can’t alter anything.”
“They categorise Moscow in Eurozone but money is always sent in dollars to date. There have never been directions from the ministry that we change the dollars into Euros,” Amb Kurgat said adding; “if you dare change, you are likely to incur exchange losses and that means a lot to the country.”
The ministry is investigating the two audit queries before presenting its report to the watchdog committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.
A team of six officials from the ministry has been in Russia for the last three weeks probing the matter. Part of the teams mandate entails reconstruction of cashbooks and reconciliation of the mission’s bank statements.
It is not clear why the ministry is investigating the matter now given that the ministry was notified through an audit memo in 2016 about the misuse of public funds.
But nothing moved until recently when the ministry perhaps nervous that the matter will be picked up by the watchdog committee, decided to launch investigations of its own.