The recent highly publicised controversy at the ministry of Water and Irrigation over the multibillion shillings Thwake Water Dam project has taken a new twist in the wake of fears that millions of shillings that allegedly changed hands could have cost the life of a senior ministry official.
Bob Kevin Mwathe Mutava, the youthful personal assistant of then Irrigation principal secretary Patrick Nduati and a close confidant, saw his life snuffed out early March in the middle of the heat generated by raging ministry wars attributed to the trappings that appeared to accompany the Thwake Water Dam multi-billion-shillings project on the one hand and power games pitting cabinet secretary Eugene Wamalwa and his PS on the other.
Mutava’s troubles can be traced to a couple of days earlier when authorities in a sting operation, reportedly found him with Sh11 million in cash, in a trap that could have been orchestrated by Maji House wheelerdealers and piqued tenderpreneurs.
At this point in time, the flamboyant Bob, as the late Mutava was simply known at the ministry headquarters, is said to have taken a sabbatical leave, and that he would often respond to his callers that he was in Netherlands.
When he ran into trouble with authorities, Mutava’s mother is reported to have made frantic calls to the PS for intervention. It later emerged that Mutava had a whopping Sh100 million in an unnamed bank account, raising the tension even further.
According to insiders, the desperate mother visited the PS at his sixth floor office to seek his audience. One thing led to the other and Mutava would eventually win his freedom, only to be lured to his sad ending in what is suspected to be drink poisoning while with some unnamed friends.
Mutava’s sad demise was so pronounced that PS Nduati himself stood motionless for a whole 30 minutes beside his body without uttering a word at the Mariakani Cottage Hospital in Nairobi’s Southlands.
The ministry headquarters has since been awash with all manner of theories ranging from deal gone sour to shortchanging; to doublecrossing to priceless top secrets.
Mutava is said to have nurtured a longstanding relationship with the PS, dating back to their time together at a World Bank project.
Profiled as a highly experienced senior water and sanitation specialist at the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank group, Nduati’s appointment was seen to be anchored on key elements of propoor innovations and public-private partrnerships that guided his colourful stint at the World Bank.
He was, for instance, expected to drive the implementation of the one-million-acre Galana Kulalu irrigation project that sought to enhance food security in the country; a matter critics say is a total flop altogether.
Having variously worked at the top level of the water sector for a cumulative period of 20 years, Nduati steered key technical assistance projects in low-income settlements in the city.
This places him as a widely travelled technocrat, with his itinerary taking him to high-end capitals including the United States and beyond.
Back to the Thwake theatrics, Nduati’s bold move to defy his boss, the Water and Irrigation cabinet secretary Eugene Wamalwa, elicited more questions than answers, with observers casting aspersions on the PS’s motivation on the one hand, and CS Wamalwa’s waning clout on the other.
But those in the know see a clash of interests between two emerging camps pitting senior mandarins in government. Indeed, word has it that one of the rowing camps had early on received millions of shillings to initialise the bidding for a particular contractor.
Sources claimed that a top Jubilee politician received a cool Sh600 million late last year, ostensibly to influence the Thwake Water Dam multi-billion tender process to the favour of China Ghezouba, a key protagonist in the water wars at Maji House.
Interestingly, the CS’s camp was unhappy and kept on lamenting how the top Jubilee official would only give them a paltry Sh25 million, adding this would not trickle down to us anyway.
Yet, the other camp had their own designs on the contract, with Sino Hydro, the other protagonist. Whichever way one looked at it, the two competing interests appeared to have gone full throttle for the kill.
Such were the intrigues that culminated into procurement irregularities, insubordination and total disregard of Attorney General Githu Muigai’s legal opinion on the key government project financed by the African Development Bank.
In retrospect, the CS and his PS went on to exchange bad-tempered memos, with similar exchanges between Nduati and AfDB putting the future of the Thwake Dam project in jeopardy.
The tender wars at Maji House would ultimately morph into an anti-climax, with the donor pulling out of the Sh63 billion project altogether. While Wamalwa, the AfDB and Githu had strongly advised that the tender be awarded to the lowest evaluated bidder, China Ghezouba, at Sh36 billion, as recommended by the ministerial evaluation committee. PS Nduati insisted in his letter to the bank the tender would be awarded to another firm, Sino Hydro, at Sh39 billion — Sh3 billion higher.
A grouping of a city billionaire with massive interest in one of Kenya’s biggest motor vehicle dealerships and a top investor at the Nairobi Securities Exchange are said to have been pulling the strings in the shadows.
Highly placed sources say the billionaire was the driving force behind the rumpus, having offered millions of dollars to sway the tender Sino Hydro’s way.
The battle lines date back to June 30 last year when the ministerial evaluation committee opened bids for 25 firms that had responded to an advertisement for civil and other associated works at Thakwe Dam.
Four firms that responded include China Gezhouba, Sino Hydro, Tianjin Engineering, Essar Construction and Industry Co Inc, Strabag International GmbH and CMC Yuksel JV.
The evaluation committee recommended that bidder China Gezhouba Group Company, being the lowest evaluated bidder, be invited for negotiation and considered for award of the said contract.
It was then that the ministry dutifully notified AfDB, being the financier, of this outcome. On its part, the bank granted a ‘no-objection’ letter, implying the ministry was in compliance with the bank regulations and would proceed to award and sign the contract with the winning bidder.
But in a swift turn of events, the PS unilaterally appointed a ministerial tender committee chaired by Nicholas Kitua with Christine Kawira, Wilfred Onchoke, Augustin Ndwiga, Tom Ndhiwe, James Yatich and George Marete as members.
And in an even more interesting twist, this committee approved the recommendation of the evaluation committee but awarded the tender to a different firm from the one recommended by the evaluation committee.
Perhaps, to justify their tricks, MTC, in making the recommendations, said the first bidder, China Gezhouba Group Limited, used the experience of one of the companies of Gezhouba Group No 1 Engineering Co Ltd that it claims was blacklisted.
As a consequence, MTC recommended that the tender be awarded to the next bidder in ranking, Sino Hydro Engineering, despite being Sh3 billion higher than the original winner.
This effectively signaled the beginning of the simmering trouble at Maji House. Upon receipt of notification of the outcome of MTC’s recommendations, AfDB sent an advisory to the ministry.
The bank, in its letter dated February 24 2017, told the ministry that the reasons given by the MTC for invalidating the bid by China Ghezouba Group Company were without merit. AfDB further told PS Nduati that the MTC recommendations were diversionary in nature and lacked merit.
The bank, in what appears to have been a conclusive decision, told the ministry to proceed and sign the contract with the lowest evaluated bidder, China Ghezouba Group Company.
Perhaps, feeling frustrated, Wamalwa on March 7 2017, fired a harsh memo to Nduati, directing that the PS proceeds and execute the contract for construction with the lowest evaluated bidder.
On his part, Attorney General Githu Muigai, not only advised the ministry that the MTC had erred but also drew their attention to the consequences in the event the bank considers re-allocating its partial funding towards the project.
And in his letter dated February 28 2017, PS Nduati told off project financier, African Development Bank. Nduati not only accused the bank of favouring China Gezouba, but went on to ignore the position of the bank as the financier of the dam and went on to say the contract would proceed as recommended by the MTC.
A defiant Nduati went ahead to award a controversial dam construction tender to Sino Hydro, that could see taxpayers lose more than Sh3 billion.
The PS instead awarded the Sh62.3 billion Thwake Water Dam contract to the second lowest evaluated bidder Sino Hydro, and proceeded to inform the lowest bidder, China Gezhouba, that its bid was unsuccessful.
As this went on, the World Bank pulled out of the Thwake Water Dam project altogether, effectively living it in limbo. This ultimately saw Nduati moved to the department of industry in the ministry of Indusrialisation in a similar capacity as PS.
When all is said and done, cartels ruling the roost at Maji House have refused to go, with the CS being accused of looking the other way as a cabal of his trusted handlers within and without Maji House continue to fatten their purses from multimillion deals.
The investment portfolios of Maji House cartels now reads like a fairy tale rags-to-riches story; ranging from prime land in Karen, posh homes in Western, gas stations, farm machineries, rich agricultural land, fuel guzzlers – the list is long.
Former close friends of the CS who spoke to the Weekly Citizen blame the unnamed cartel for mishandling the otherwise affable Eugene culminating into the bungled bid for Nairobi Governor.