Former Tourism PS Rebecca Nabutola on Monday became the second permanent secretary to be convicted over crimes committed while in office in as many weeks.
Ms Nabutola, unlike former Home Affairs counterpart Sylvester Mwaliko who received a three-year non-custodial sentence and the option of a fine, was jailed for four years besides a fine.
Mr Mwaliko was last week fined Sh3 million or three-year term over the Anglo Leasing passport scandal.
This is a rare sentence in independent Kenya where corrupt officials have tended to be societal role models and could vindicate recent Judiciary reforms.
The former PS and former Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) managing director Dr Ong’ong’a Achieng’ were found guilty of conspiracy to
defraud the ministry Sh8.4 million.
They organised and funded a trip for PSs to familiarise themselves with the marketing of wildebeest’s migrations in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve in June 2007, at a function also attended by President Kibaki.
Senior Principal Magistrate Lucy Nyambura ruled that the money requested by KTB from the Treasury was for marketing and wondered how KTB ended up paying Sh8.4 million for a trip budgeted to cost Sh900,000 and which was to be funded by stakeholders in the tourism sector.
“The cost of the entire trip was Sh1.8 million which was to be sourced from stakeholders.
No documents are there to show the other payments even after one stakeholder paid Sh500,000 for the trip.
In fact, the other accused (Duncan Muriuki) opened a fixed deposit account for the money and withdrew it soon after the trip was over,” said Nyambura.
Ms Nyambura sentenced Dr Ong’ong’a to three years. The jail terms for the Ms Nabutola and the former university don could increase to six and five years respectively if they fail to pay a fine of Sh1 million and Sh1.5 million respectively.
Their co-accused Mr Muriuki, the managing director of Maniago Safaris and a former board member of KTB, got the severest punishment after being sentenced to seven years in jail and a mandatory repayment of Sh18.6 million to the Tourism ministry.
This is also one of the few cases where private operatives have found themselves in trouble together with government officials over abuse of office.
Ms Nyambura ruled that the prosecution had proved beyond doubt that the three had jointly conspired to defraud the ministry despite being public officers entrusted with the management of public funds.
“In convicting them, I have considered that they were public officers entrusted with public funds but they breached that trust put on them by their offices,” said Ms Nyambura.
Ms Nabutola, Dr Ong’ong’a and Mr Muriuki were charged with a total of 11 counts of conspiracy to defraud, failure to adhere to rules governing procurement and abuse of office.
They were all found guilty of the first count of conspiracy to defraud KTB Sh8.4 million for which each will serve three years in jail.
On the second count, Ms Nabutola and Mr Muriuki were charged with conspiracy to defraud the ministry Sh400,000.
The magistrate ruled that it was evident Mr Muriuki’s company received the money from the ministry even though the trip was funded by stakeholders and sentenced each to one year imprisonment.
The former PS was also found guilty of two counts of willful failure to comply with rules relating to public procurement and abuse of office and fined a total of Sh1 million or serve additional two years in jail in default.
“Ms Nabutola improperly conferred a benefit to Maniago Safaris without following procedures and abused her office as the chief accounting officer,” ruled Ms Nyambura.
Dr Ong’ong’a was found guilty of two other charges of paying money for services not rendered and for failing to comply with procurement rules.
Ms Nyambura ruled that he failed to offer any explanation why the budgeted money escalated from Sh1.8 million to Sh8.9 million and why he single-handedly gave the nod for the money to be paid to Maniago Safaris even though the company was not approved by the Tourism Board.
The three were charged in May 2009, following recommendations by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
In his defence Dr Ong’ong’a, the son of late freedom fighter Achieng’ Oneko, said he instructed Catering and Tourism Development Levy Trustees to pay the money to Mr Muriuki without the proper approval due to the absence of a board between December 2007 and August 2008.
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