team over duty free shops demolitions at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
Updated Tuesday, August 13th 2013 at 00:23 GMT +3
|From left: Transport Secretary Michael Kamau, KAA Managing Director Stephine Gichuki and KAA lawyer Fred Ngatia when they appeared before Parliamentry Committee on Transport at Parliament Buildings yesterday. [PHOTO: MOSES OMUSULA/STANDARD]|
Nairobi, Kenya: MPs clashed over the circumstances surrounding the demolition of Diplomatic Duty Free Shops at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) during a stormy parliamentary committee session.
During the heated session, the over 20 MPs, who are members of the Parliamentary Committee on Transport, differed over whether the Kenya Airports Authority ( KAA) had breached the law.
But authorities told the MPs the genesis of the contract that saw a foreigner secure exclusive rights to operate the duty free shops was the “greatest fraud”.
The session almost degenerated into a shouting match when Embakasi South MP Irshad Sumra accused KAA Managing Director Stephen Gichuki and the head of security of being economical with the truth on the events surrounding the demolition of the shops.
Attempts by his colleagues to cool him down fell on deaf ears as Mr Sumra claimed that the airport’s CCTV cameras had been switched off during the demolition and the youths who undertook the exercise were not screened. He termed it a “serious security breach”.
Mr Sumra also sensationally claimed that KAA had left electric wires exposed, which he said caused the fire at JKIA, but Head of Airport Police Eric Kiraithe clarified that the electrical installations were handled by electricians in the operation.
KAA was hard pressed to explain how the 350 youths had accessed the airport and Sumra sought to have the head of security produce their names and national identification card numbers.
Nairobi Women Representative Rachael Shebesh also sought to have lawyer Fred Ngatia, representing KAA, disqualify himself over conflict of interest, claiming he had at some pointed acted as businessman Kamlesh Pattni’s lawyer.
Mr Pattni is linked to the duty free shops.
A heated debate ensued, with Ms Shebesh tabling documents to prove her claims, but the lawyer denied having acted for Pattni and insisted that he had represented another party in a suit involving World Duty Free shops.
Mwingi Central MP Joe Mutambo also produced a letter dated August 6, which he claimed had sought to have Mr Ngatia disqualify himself from the session for being an interested party.
However, Mutambo’s Runyenje’s counterpart Cecily Mbarire asked the committee chairman not to admit the letter as it did not bear any signature or stamp while Ngatia said he was not aware of such a letter.
Ngati had earlier told the committee that the contract that led to the establishment of the duty free shops was an illegality and termed it fraud.
This led to the MPs tasking the KAA MD to explain why the authority had been renewing the contract of the duty free shops if the contract was illegal.
The MD explained that the authority had been dogged by irregularities for the past 25 years, but explained that the recent demolitions were part of efforts to streamline the authority’s operations.
During the session, Transport Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau said the shops had posed a serious security risk and had also hampered the completion of Unit 4.
Ngatia explained that the duty free shops’ ownership had been wrestled from the initial owner, Nasir Ibrahim, by Pattni when Nasir was expelled from the country.
Ngatia told the committee that senior government officials had been involved in the scam.
He pointed out that Nasir had revealed in a suit he filed in Washington seeking compensation after his expulsion that he had paid a $2 million bribe to get the contract signed in 1989.
Three senior government officials at that time, namely Charles Mbindyo (Permanent Secretary, Treasury), Hezekiah Oyugi (Internal Security) and Secretary to the Cabinet Philip Mbithi failed to act on letters that were issued over the scam.