NAIROBI, September 10 – Lands Minister James Orengo testified at the Commission of Inquiry probing the sale of the Grand Regency Hotel on Wednesday but failed to implicate former Finance Minister Amos Kimunya of any wrong doing.
Orengo who blew the whistle over the sale and accused Kimunya of selling the hotel cheaply and secretly instead turned the heat on the Commissioner of Lands Zablon Mabea.
He told the commission that Mabea transferred the asset without his knowledge or that of Permanent Secretary Dorothy Angote in a record seven days.
“On Friday the 20th of June I asked him if there had been any transaction regarding the hotel and he said no. I told him not to make any decisions regarding it until I came back,” Orengo said adding that the transfer was done between June 19 and 26.
Orengo stated that the Lands Commissioner confessed that he was under pressure from the Governor of Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Njuguna Ndung’u to transfer the asset expeditiously.
“While we appeared before the Cabinet sub-committee he said that the governor had told him that the president was aware of the transaction,” he explained.
The Lands Minister said he was infuriated by the hasty transfer of the title deed and felt obligated to expose the ‘saga’ to uphold transparent governance.
Kimunya was forced to resign at the height of the controversy after Orengo accused him of complacency in the deal.
The Kipipiri legislator however maintained his innocence noting that the sale was a government-to-government deal sealed by the CBK.
Parliament nevertheless passed a Motion of no-confidence in him forcing him to resign.
President Mwai Kibaki subsequently appointed the commission headed by Justice Abdul Majid Cockar to establish the role played by Kimunya, Njuguna and the CBK’s secretary Kennedy Abuga.
All the 19 witnesses who have appeared before the commission have not mentioned Kimunya. His lawyer Githu Muigai has said it was unlikely that the former Finance Minister would testify at the commission unless the governor or Orengo made reference to him their testimonies.
In his testimony, Abuga said that the sale was agreed upon by top government officials. The bank, he sated, took advantage of this ‘godsend’ opportunity.
Orengo however dismissed this assertion and maintained that it was a Kenyan company that bought the hotel.
“A Cabinet paper would have been prepared, signed by the relevant ministers and the matter put before Cabinet. And in any case after due diligence the office of the Attorney General would be invited to look into it and then advise accordingly,” he insisted.
The Lands Minister said that up to today he still believes the sale was faulty as it lacked transparency and side-stepped legal procedures.
A memorandum signed by senior government officials in June last year cited the hotel as a key investment which the Libyan government was interested in.
“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,” part of the brief said.
The hotel was transferred to the CBK in April this year by businessman Kamlesh Pattni in repayment of a loan he owed it prior to the sale.
The Libyan Embassy in Nairobi has also owned up to purchasing the asset from the Kenyan government.
In addition Orengo said that he believed that the hotel was valued well over the sale price of Sh.2.9 billion.
An independent valuer appointed to ascertain the cost the asset is expected to table his report on Thursday morning..
Orengo is expected to continue with his testimony on Thursday afternoon when he will be grilled by Kimunya’s lawyer Githu Muigai and a team of CBK lawyers.
The probe commission has in the meantime had its mandate extended by three weeks. Commission Secretary Anthony Ombwayo told Capital News that they have until September 30 to submit their report to the President.