Auditor General Nancy Gathungu has unearthed a scandal involving wastage of taxpayers’ money to house diplomats in top diplomatic postings in the US.
This followed an audit of some of the Kenyan missions, which revealed questionable decisions in relation to use, maintenance, security and management of the properties.
Gathungu’s review of Foreign Affairs ministry accounts as of June 30, 2021 found the Ambassador in New York accredited to the UN — currently Dr Martin Kimani — lives on a leased property for which taxpayers are paying an annual rent of Sh23 million — Sh2 million a month. This is despite the official residence — Kenya House —being vacant for 10 years now.
Kenyans are also paying Sh120,000 as annual maintenance and annual utility cost of Sh868,000 on the unoccupied property. The residential building sits on two acres.
Fingering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Auditor General Gathungu said MFA been incurring avoidable expenses totaling Sh24.3 million per year due to failure to ensure the ambassador occupies the official residence.
The audit also revealed the same situation in Washington DC, where the government owns five properties. While three of the properties are occupied — the chancery, ambassador’s residence and the finance attaché’s —, two are vacant.
They are a six-bedroom house, which has been unoccupied for three months, and a three-bedroom that had been vacant for more than a year at the time of the audit. They are, however, being maintained at Sh8.9 million per year.
Kenya Ambassador to US Lazarus Amayo and Finance attaché Stephen Kaloki are officially housed, while Deputy Chief of Mission Ambassador David Gacheru lives in his house.
The other eight staffers live in leased houses, where rent ranges from Sh310,000 to Sh375,000 for each property. Had the Foreign Affairs ministry utilized the Washington DC properties, Gathungu says it would have saved Sh13.8 million every year.
This is Sh3.72 million for one of the local staff who should have occupied the three-bedroom house, rent for three months of Sh1.2 million for the deputy ambassador had he occupied the six-bedroom house, and the Sh8.9 million spent on utility and cleaning the compounds.
This comes after some Kenyans living in the UK early this year questioned the life style of Deputy Head of Mission.
At a time when the Parliamentary Budget Office was calling on embassies to reduce rent and host fewer diplomats, some Kenyans there claimed the diplomat was living large of the taxpayers’ purse.
“He is said to be living in a house costing millions of shillings, its driveway decorated with new top-of-the-range vehicles. This is despite the mission doing very little to help Kenyans, especially in need of consular services,” a local paper reported.
In December 2021, a parliamentary advisory team called for the reduction of the number of embassies and instead advised the government hires foreigners for diplomacy work in efforts to lower the cost of rent and hosting diplomats abroad.
The Parliament Budget Office argued that despite the expansion of Kenya’s footprint across the world, the destination of Kenya’s exports has remained narrow, with only 12 countries accounting for 70 per cent of total exports in 2020.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been criticized over the high cost of maintaining embassies abroad.
According to the National Assembly Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs, most of the government-owned properties in missions abroad are old and dilapidated.
The embassy in London and those in New York (UN), Canada, Washington DC (bilateral), Russia, Australia, Geneva, Japan, China, South Korea and the Los Angeles consulate have been cited as being in a deplorable state and in need of rehabilitation.
MFA at the time sought at least Sh5 billion annually for 15 years to buy properties, which it said will cut on rent.
But even so, Gathungu’s recent audit flagged errors in a valuation report in the purchase of the chancery in Geneva.
The report done by the Lands ministry was found to have wrong details of the property, which the Kenyan mission there bought at Sh1.9 billion.
The audit report shows the mission entered into an agreement with Pi Morillon SA in 2020 to acquire land at Sh547.7 million and the building at Sh1.32 billion.
Whereas the report indicated the title number was Plot No5785, Mission 5, the actual position is that the property is on Plot No 5816, Mission 6.
The Lands ministry report also showed the land was 1,500 square metres yet the actual size is 2,150 square metres.
Valuers also reported the property had a gas pipeline and 24-hour security yet there are no such services on the ground.
Also flagged was the report indicating the plot is on a level ground yet it is on a hilly ground, and that the plot is marked with a masonry wall fence that is not there.
In what suggests there could be corruption involved, the report indicated there were five double-storey houses on the plot, while only one single-storey house stands.
“In view of the errors noted in the report, the accuracy and reliability of the report could not be confirmed,” the report said
This revives the infamous Sh16 billion Tokyo Embassy scandal.
Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangu’la (now Bungoma Senator and Ford Kenya leader), then PS Thuita Mwangi, former deputy director Ambassador Antony Mwaniki Muchiri (now PSC chairman) and then Charge de’ Affairs at the Kenya embassy on Tokyo were implicated and charged — except Wetang’ula — but later acquitted over lack of sufficient evidence.
In the scandal, it was alleged that instead of accepting free property from the government of Japan for the embassy, Sh1.6 billion shillings was withheld from the sale of Kenyan property in Nigeria and used to buy a less suitable property.