Top EPZA officials suspended in board crackdown on tender mess

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The board of the Export Processing Zone has sent on compulsory leave three top officials in a purge to clean up a “tender mess” at the authority.

The board has invited Ethics and Ant-Corruption Commission detectives to investigate the matter.

Among those sent on leave are long-serving corporation secretary Maria Ouya, general manager for commercial and technical services Tom Soigwa and his finance and administration counterpart Benta Omollo. 

Former CEO Fanuel Kidenda was kicked out soon after Peter Munya took over as the Industrialisation CS in July.

“All allegations of possible procurement irregularities, corruption or any other matters which are criminal in nature be referred to the Director of Criminal Investigations and EACC for investigations and possible prosecution,” a board report seen by the Star says.

 Among the issues raised by the board include contract variation, illegal disposal of EPZA land, possible tax evasion and several graft allegations against top bosses. The board is chaired by lawyer Paul Gicheru.

Gicheru was initially the chair of Public Administrative Review Board from where President Uhuru Kenyatta picked him to chair EPZA, a key pillar in the realisation of the Big Four agenda.

In the report, the board noted that in at least 14 tenders, the contracts were amended and huge variations made. It said it was puzzling that there were no tender committee minutes or documents to show any application for variation.

“The variations were ostensibly authorised by the former CEO and paid for by the general manager for finance and administration in spite of the glaring irregularities without any approval by the board,” the report says. 

The report said the variations were initiated when between 90 per cent and 97 per cent of the contract sums had already been paid. 

“The audit committee confirmed that some of the variations were beyond the percentage threshold for variations allowed by law,” the report says.

Last week, the Star reported that the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority has launched investigations into the alleged scandal that has implicated top government officials.

Related: Ministry to create more jobs at EPZs

EVADE TAXES

The board put on the spot the corporation secretary over the Sh8 million sale of EPZA land measuring 1.036 acres. The plot was sold to a private firm known as Mansi Vegext EPZ Ltd. 

The report said there was no evidence it had been degazetted by the minister at the time of the sale. The plot is a gazetted EPZ land.

 “The corporation secretary who signed the letter of offer for the sale of land did so in her name while purporting to act for the CEO of the authority,” the report says. The board  said Ouya did not have such powers.

 The board also queried the ongoing construction of a private petrol station on a five acre land that was leased to a firm known as Net Gas and Energy Limited. The lease was executed by Kidenda.

The board said the business of selling fuel, food drinks as indicated by Net Gas and Energy are not contemplated under the EPZA Act.

EPZA mandate includes promoting manufacturing, industrialisation and job creation.

The report accuses senior officials of colluding with foreign firms that have completed the 10 years tax holiday to change company names. Through this, they evade paying taxes.

“This may have deprived the government of millions of shillings through tax evasion and loss of revenue,” the report says. 

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By Kenyan Digest

The Kenyan Digest Team