NAIROBI, August 4 – The Commission of Inquiry appointed to investigate the sale of the Grand Regency Hotel began its sittings on Monday morning with the Commissioner of Lands Zablon Obeya first on the docks.
The inquiry, which is being chaired by Justice (Rtd) Majid Cockar, was expected to question businessman Kamlesh Pattni but Obeya took the stand instead.
No explanation was given for the change in the witness line-up.
Obeya began his testimony by taking the Commission through the history of the parcel of land on which the multi-billion shillings luxury hotel stands.
He defended the Lands Ministry over its handling of the sale, saying ‘the manner in which the deal was handled was above board’.
He explained to the Commission that he had made it clear to the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) governor Njuguna Ndung’u, Secretary of the Board of Directors of CBK, Kennedy Abuga and a lawyer from Wetangula, Adan, Makokha & Company Advocates (which represented the Libyan buyers) that proper procedure must be followed in disposing of the public land.
Obeya said: “I was told that Abuga, that is the CBK Board Secretary and the lawyer from Adan, Wetangula, Makokha & Company Advocates were looking for me, but I was not in so they left a message saying that I should call the governor.”
“The next day, when I called the governor, he told me that the Bank had sold the hotel and wanted to charge it to the new owners.”
He said the secretary of the CBK Board and the lawyer arrived in his office and presented several documents, but he handed them over to officials who would help them process the transfer.
The commissioner was however taken to task over the procedure of registering the transfer of the hotel documents; Obeya referred the question to the Registrar of Lands, saying he did not personally handle the documents.
Nyamu (Asst Counsel Wilfred): Did you go through these documents pursuant to which the transfer was done for you to be able to determine whether or not there was an error?
Obeya: My Lords, as I said when I started I head three technical divisions of which each division handles it own work. And I don’t normally ask to see the documents.
Cockar: You informed that it was a government-to-government transaction; did you have a sight of the documents?
Obeya: My Lords the documents are normally handled by the registrar …I didn’t look at the documents.
The Commissioner said that the CBK governor had told him that the deal must be expedited since it’s a deal between two governments.
“He called me again just by way of follow up. I assume he asked where my officers had reached with the registration process because the sale was between the government and a company owned by the Libyan government, he said he wanted it expedited.”
The land official told the Justice (Rtd) Cockar commission that Lands Minister James Orengo had directed the PS to issue a caveat to stop further sale of the property in question, as it was subject to a probe by the Prime Minister’s office and a parliamentary committee.
He further told the commission that the ministry did not deal with the former Finance Minister Amos Kimunya while handling the sale.
Earlier, Nyamu said there was a conflict of interest for lawyers Waweru Gatonye, Phillip Murgor and George Oraro to jointly represent the Central Bank, its governor Njuguna Ndung’u and bank Secretary Kennedy Ambunda respectively.
“When executing its mandate this commission will have to make legal and administrative recommendations; a recommendation can be made that those adversely mentioned should vacate office,” he said.
He wanted CBK, its governor and secretary all represented separately.
“We may have to consider if these persons mentioned acted within or outside their power. Looking at it from that angle my Lords it is pertinent that all the adversely mentioned persons are not represented by able lawyers in the panel of CBK they ought to find their own,” argued Nyamu.
However, Murgor responded by saying there was no conflict accusing the assisting counsel of jumping the gun.
“The interest of the Central Bank in this matter is no different to that of the governor, and Board Secretary but we are mindful of our professional ethics and when that time comes we will be the first to advise the concerned parties appropriately,” Murgor said.
However Justice Cockar ruled that there was no conflict of interest since Murgor had assured the commission that parties would be advised to get separate counsel if a conflict arose.
“We also don’t see any case of conflict or irregularity in the panel to be appointed to represent the mentioned because the issue of it being irregular is not for the commission but for the auditor general to take up,” Cockar ruled.
The commission adjourned its sitting until 10am, August 5.