Sunday, July 6, 2008



Published on July 6, 2008
By Gakuu Mathenge
Sunday Standard

Finance Minister Amos Muhinga Kimunya on Wednesday got a rude message about what his peers in Parliament think about him.

Though decent human beings would grudgingly still find some room — within their reservoirs of empathy for smart Alecs like Kimunya — he must search deep in his soul to find out why even his Narc-Kenya and Party of National Unity (PNU) colleagues, would feel compelled to defend him.

Kimunya was born at Ting’ang’a in Kiambu , in March 1962, but grew up in Nyandarua district where his family settled.

He attended Njabi-ini High School for his O-levels and Shimo la Tewa High School at the Coast for his A-levels before joining Nairobi University.

At his lowest moment, his quivering voice and dejected statement that he would rather not work for Kenyans if it only brought him such ignominy, betrayed an injured, wounded soul.

As the event was beamed live across the country, the stellar trajectory of his career from a struggling accountant in the early 1990s, Kipipiri MP and Cabinet minister as his 40th birthday in 2003, must have swirled in his mind.

Along the way, Kimunya has been chairman of the of Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK), in late 1990s and chairman of Muthaiga Golf Club in 2001, where he met President Kibaki, then Opposition leader and a senior member of the club.

Among his pastimes is a Sunday morning round of Golf with Central Bank governor, Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, and Kenya Revenue Authority’s chief, Mr Michael Waweru.

But during his reflections, Kimunya would make a grave mistake to think the deep resentment of him in Parliament resulted from the Grand Regency sale saga that was only on its fifth day of disclosure on Wednesday.

Kimunya’s insensitive, at times insolent mannerisms since he was appointed Cabinet minister in 2003, have rubbed many-fellow MPs, Narc-Kenya and Central Kenya colleagues the wrong way, and Wednesday afternoon was pay back time.

His mother tongue language has an adage: ‘Karikurega nyuumba na riika gatihonaga (if you fall out with your community and peers you are irredeemably doomed)’.

It would be ironical for Kimunya’s career to crumble over the same circumstances —corruption investigations — that accidentally gave him the job in 2006: Kimunya was a beneficiary of the fall of Kibaki’s first Finance minister, Mr David Mwiraria, who resigned over his association with the Anglo Leasing scam.

Few knew Kimunya outside the accounting circles and as chairman of the Muthaiga Golf Club in 1990s, and where he is reported to have made a name in fundraising for the refurbishment of the golf course to international levels.

Indeed, even in the media circles, it was the sports writers and editors who were more familiar with Kimunya when he was first appointed Minister for Lands and Settlement in 2003.

What was not apparent in 2003 was that with Muthaiga credentials and his Kiambu roots, Kimunya was the adopted blue eyed boy of the amorphous Democratic Party’s Council of Elders cum Trustees, who also mutated into the Narc Council of Elders in late 2002, when the National Rainbow Coalition was formed.

This association was important because, the Narc administration came to power as a loose coalition, bound by the defunct Memorandum of Understanding the composition of a crucial DP featured individuals whose histories and interests were incompatible with the anti-corruption agenda of the Narc Coalition.

Their interest in land, especially, was enormous.

When Kimunya dramatically formed the Ndung’u Commission of Inquiry, Kenyans’ expectations on the final resolution of the ignoble stealing of public land by the successive generations of ruling elite and civil service fat cats hit the skies.

Recovery of grabbed public land

But the list of names that featured in the report read like who was who of Kenyatta and Moi regimes ruling elite, civil service fat cats, police and military cadres, some of them deeply entrenched in the DP wing of the coalition.

By the time he left in 2006, for all the high drama and tough talk, Kimunya had achieved little of substance by way of recovery of grabbed public land, reforming the sordid and opaque processes at Ardhi House, Land Laws and staff cultural change, among other factors.

A key recommendation of the Ndung’u Commission was the formation of an independent Land Disputes Tribunal and an amendment of land laws relating to the sanctity of the title to grant the tribunal powers to repossess grabbed land and restore it to the taxpayers.

Kimunya repeatedly promised to repossess grabbed land, even made public statements that some land had been repossessed and titles deeds returned.

However, one thing remains a mystery to date: Kimunya never disclosed where the repossessed land was, or names of those who surrendered stolen land, or what he did or intended to do with the land and title deeds.

He never formed the tribunal either, nor introduced the legal amendments as recommended by the Ndung’u Commission.

The only enduring legacies of Kimunya’s three year tenure at Ardhi House was the massive eviction of peasant farmers settled in Mau escarpment in the 1990s by the Kanu regime.

The manner in which the Government went about ruthlessly evicting thousands of rural small scale subsistence farmers from their small plots of land in the Mau, was gold dust to the then budding opposition forces.

Doing nothing with big land grabbing beneficiaries, some whom own tea and wheat plantations in the former forest land, only added fuel to the fire, and a perfect political platform to project Kibaki’s regime as a anti-peasant, and pro-rich presidency.

He blatantly disregarded the fact that the Mau settlers had been given the ownership documents by the previous Kanu government, and they were legitimate landowners.

Then Kimunya said: "These titles are of doubtful validity, they are mere pieces of paper."

The Mau residents felt aggrieved. In their view, they were getting evicted vindictively for having been settled by the Moi government.

The minister’s actions attracted the attention of the Kenya Human Rights Commission that cautioned: "The minister’s action has set a bad precedence that the sanctity of a title deed is no longer valid in Kenya. It has led to flagrant abuse of human rights regarding the protection of private property, equality before the law and security of the person."

The KHRC urged Kimunya to follow the options offered by the Ndung’u Commission to avert anarchy.

He did not listen. His actions essentially gave the Orange Democratic Movement their campaign slogan of their struggle being between ‘mabwenyenye’ (bourgeoisie) and ‘mabepari’ (bandits), which they exploited to the maximum since the referendum in 2005.

Riding on this anti-Kibaki Government sentiments, made ‘better’ by Kimunya’s description of Mau Narok’s title deeds as mere pieces of paper, the Opposition solidified and flourished in key vote basket areas of the Rift Valley.

The affected communities voted overwhelmingly against the draft constitution supported by Kibaki.

By the time last General Election came two years later, Kibaki scraped through to his second term.

Kimunya was not held accountable for the political havoc he wrought for Kibaki at the referendum. He was instead appointed Finance minister in February 2006 .

Although Kimunya was a beneficiary of palace wars pitting the Muthaiga elders from Kiambu against the political supporters from the slopes of Mt Kenya — both fighting over ownership, access and control of State House power base —Kimunya apparently took it as a promotion, a reward for some good work.

Pay back time

He failed to appreciate his appointment was an accident, and that Kibaki’s first choice of Mwiraria, was not for the love of the diminutive former DP Vice-chairman, but a reward to a loyal and key voting block that had stuck with him for many years.

On Wednesday, MPs from this constituency, who have never forgiven him for his perceived disinheritance, paid him in kind. They just watched as he was being lynched. His Narc-Kenya colleagues and members of the Central Kenya Parliamentary Group (CPG) just watched gleefully.

Kimunya does not attend their meetings or does not show much regard for them.

Kimunya’s first encounter with probity questions since he replaced Mwiraria came from the controversial Charterhouse Bank.

When some Central Bank whistle blowers lifted the lid on the goings on at the Charterhouse Bank, alleged to have been the haven for money laundering, the minister’s ambivalence and spirited defence — even before investigations had been conducted— raised eyebrows.

Investigations indicated shocking practices, where millions of shillings were wired to foreign accounts from blind accounts that had no details of operators. The then acting CBK Governor Jacinta Mwatela, condemned Charterhouse as "not being bank". Kimunya went ahead to shelter it against probity questions in Parliament, dismissing inquires as "irresponsible".

In a ministerial statement he read to Parliament after Mwatela ordered the bank closed down and placed under statutory management, Kimunya defended it, saying Mwatela had acted on rumours: "The only reason Charterhouse was placed under statutory management was to forestall a run by following adverse media publicity triggered by irresponsible claims made by an MP."

That was June 2006.

Before the end of that year, Mwatela, a popular mwananchi, especially due to her daring role in preserving evidence of the Goldenberg scam from being destroyed in the early 1990s, was replaced with Prof Njuguna Ndung’u.

The move flew in the face of accusations that Kibaki’s presidency was grabbing all the plum civil service jobs for homeboys, and in spite of the fact that the President was on the campaign trail for a second term.

Today, the witnesses who blew the whistle are under the protection of the United States of America and Charterhouse Bank never reopened.

Last year, Kimunya was at it again, this time dismissing questions raised by Parliament over the hurried disposal of the Government share holding in the Safaricom as informed by ignorance.

"They do not understand. Nairobi Stock Exchange is not a fish market" that was Kimunya’s answer to Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o’s inquiries about why the Government seemed to be in an hurry to offload part of its 60 per cent shareholding in the Safaricom through Safaricom IPO.

The IPO has since come to haunt him.

When questions arose about the apparent mystery and secrecy around the sale of Grand Regency Hotel, Kimunya dismissed them as being informed by ignorance and "bar rumours".

Then, a few weeks later, after a Cabinet colleague blew the whistle, Kimunya, has been struggling to explain that "I did not deny it had been sold, but I denied it had been sold to the entities mentioned by Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara".

The semantics have failed to wash the facts that he withheld information from Parliament about the sale of Grand Regency, which is a public asset.

Kimunya’s credibility has been damaged by the fact that he did not volunteer information until Lands minister James Orengo spoke.

Kimunya’s story is damaged further by the fact among valuers who assessed the Grand Regency Hotel is Lloyd Masika, whose director, Mr Stephen Njoroge Waruhiu, is facing court charges for alleged under-valuation of the Uchumi headquarters.

The sale of Uchumi is the subject of an attempted fraud court case involving directors, among them businessman, Mr Chris Kirubi.