During this year’s Madaraka day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s in his speech warned that vetting of a particular cadre of civil servants was in the offing.
Days later, the Office of the Head of Public Service (OHPS) issued a circular instructing the heads of procurement and accounting units in ministries, agencies, departments and State corporations to step down immediately.
The Procurement officers were asked to submit their personal information to the OHPS, which included declaring their assets and liabilities and went home. They began waiting to be summoned for fresh vetting that would determine whether they would get their old jobs back, or whether information dredged up from their past would come back to haunt them.
One of the suspended officers spoke to the Standard and narrated the harrowing experience that those undergoing the lifestyle audit are subjected to by the multi agencies sleuths.
Let us say his name was KOT for anonymity purposes.
KOT was asked to show up at Harambee House on Monday, July 30 “at 9am sharp with your phone and ID card only.” “It was all over in less than a minute… he gave no room for any questions,” said PO. On Monday, PO showed up at the gates of Harambee House as requested.
“There were a dozen or two of us waiting at the gate. We went through the usual security checks… removed keys and phones and coins and metallic objects in our pockets. Little was said between us as we waited for the unknown.”
Without wasting time, they were swiftly ushered into the building.
“You could sense that they wanted us to spend as little time as possible there. Perhaps because the job ahead was crucial or perhaps not to create suspicion from passers-by.”
“After being held here for about 10 minutes, someone walked in and without introducing himself, asked us to surrender our phones.” Shortly thereafter, they were asked to walk to the parking lot where there were 7-seater custom-built Toyota Land Cruisers. “The ones used to ferry tourists. I boarded one of those,” said KOT.
Inside the car, they were handed blindfolds.
“As we drove off, one couldn’t miss the heavy feeling of fear and panic. There was silence and only the purring of the engine,” PO recollected. “Here we were, senior Government officials, being led blindly to a place we had the least clue about. Were we being taken to a torture chamber?” Outside the vehicle, life went on. “You could feel the hustle and bustle of the city.”
The drive was not long and they were driven into a compound (perhaps two to five acres) where a huge bungalow stood. With the blindfolds off, each of the officials was ushered into separate rooms.
There was no introduction – just the usual niceties of ‘sasa, sema’.
Impersonal interrogation The man had a folder with him, which for the next three hours – interrupted only by the incessant telephone calls he kept receiving – was the focus of the interrogation.
“He asked me where I worked and what I did where I worked. As if he didn’t already know. They had done a good background check on me. The folder contained all my financial dealings, including bank and M-Pesa transactions from my number. Give it to them; they were accurate. They even picked mundane things like airtime purchased.”
Although they had been asked by the OHPS to make six-month declarations on their personal information, including those of their spouses and next of kin, the interrogator possessed information that went further back.
There were threats couched in reminders that he could easily end up in the hands of the CID “like the Kenya Power bosses whose homes were stormed in night raids as police arrested them last month”. “He did all he could to squeeze out every detail from me,” KOT said, adding that he was told he would be taken through a polygraph test. For some reason, that didn’t happen.
After what seemed like an interminable grilling, the officials were taken back to the car. This time they were not asked to wear the blindfolds. It was on the drive back to the city that they realized they had been taken to Loresho, an upmarket estate on the outskirts of Nairobi.
“We were driven back to Harambee House. For those outside, life went on. They looked unperturbed oblivious of what was going on inside the luxurious tourist van driving by. “We couldn’t wait to be reunited with our phones. We were running for the exit… you could sense a feeling of defiance,” KOT said.
He added: “Does it mean that the NIS, the police and the CID have no clue what goes on across the country?” If they did, we wouldn’t be put through this… honestly. “They are paid billions, which they don’t account for by the way, to collect intel across the country. Don’t they share such information?”
He continued: “It should be easy to flag it when a Government official buys off their neighbours and goes on to put up a huge complex in the name of a home. If they want, they can catch the thieves. “It is a shame we are victimizing everyone because of a few characters.”
KOT went on: “By the way, those big tenders are never given to small men. They are given to the families and friends of the big people. This is all PR. If you want to finish corruption, start up there in the Executive and in Parliament.”
He felt they were being used as a pawns in a dangerous political game.
“A lot of us believe so. I pity my country. And by the way, if this goes on, I don’t want to work for Government. Many of my colleagues feel the same way.”
He saw a situation where staff would go to the office and pretend to work, just to get by. “There will be no one to make those hard decisions. It just doesn’t work anymore.
“As we were handed back our phones, there were no send-off words… no warnings of if you talk, we will come for you… nothing. We were just told to go and wait for further communication. “As we had come, we walked individually into the early afternoon city rush. No one had a clue where we had come from or where we were headed.”