NAIROBI, September 9 – Lands Minister James Orengo on Tuesday appeared before the Commission of Inquiry probing the sale of the Grand Regency Hotel and denied avoiding its summons.
Orengo, who made a brief appearance, sought for more time and promised to present his evidence on Wednesday.
“I was willing to start today (Tuesday) but there are some documents that I need to retrieve and you know the let down in the civil service,” Orengo said.
On Monday, Commission Chairman Abdul Majid Cockar had said that they may be forced to advertise through the media or post the summons on Orengo’s office door after failing to serve him on three separate occasions.
However Orengo defended himself: “I had instructed my Permanent Secretary to let me know in circumstances when I may be out of the office, when the Commission required me to appear and even as of this morning she said that she had not received information from this Commission.”
The Lands Minister exposed the sale of the asset in May this year and accused the then Finance Minister Amos Kimunya of selling the hotel to the Libyan government at a throwaway price.
Parliament followed it up with a vote of no-confidence in Kimunya and forced him to step aside.
President Mwai Kibaki consequently appointed the Commission to establish the role played by Kimunya, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) governor Njuguna Ndung’u and the CBK Secretary Kennedy Abuga.
It has called a total of 19 witnesses, but none has made mention of the Kipipiri legislator.
His lawyer Githu Muigai said on Monday that Kimunya would not appear unless the remaining witnesses, Njuguna and Orengo mentioned him adversely.
Abuga testified for the second day on Tuesday and confirmed that the sale was agreed upon between top government officials.
“CBK was keen to take advantage of these investors introduced by the government and when this opportunity presented itself we saw it as a godsend,” he stated.
The Secretary presented a memorandum to the Inquiry, signed by senior government officials in June last year citing the hotel as a key investment that the Libyan government wanted.
The memorandum was signed in Tripoli when President Kibaki led a high level delegation to Libya. Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi and Information and Communication Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo signed on behalf of the Kenya government.
“Consultations have been ongoing at the highest levels of the two governments, where it has been agreed that the Libyan government be encouraged to purchase the hotel when the opportunity arises,” a brief presentation before the commission said in part.
The Libyan ambassador, he added, made a follow up with the bank immediately.
Abuga also informed the commission that they were in constant touch with the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC) on the proceedings of the sale, contrary to a testimony given by the KACC Deputy Director Fatuma Sichale.
In her testimony last month, Sichale had told the Commission that they parted ways with the bank before they had identified a buyer.
However a brief presented by Abuga showed that Ndung’u had met the KACC Director Aaron Ringera and made him aware of the deal.
An independent valuer appointed to ascertain the hotel’s worth is in the meantime expected to table his report on Thursday. This is expected to put to rest the contentious matter of the asset’s value.
The Commission’s mandate ends on Wednesday and it has already requested for a one-month extension from the Office of the President (OP).
Commission Secretary Anthony Ombwayo told Capital News that the Office of the President had promised to get back to them by Wednesday afternoon.