Presence of Swazuri’s signature in letters may be his undoing

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By JOHN NGIRACHU
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The allegation that he took a Sh1 million bribe might have grabbed the headlines, but his signature on two letters might be Prof Muhammad Swazuri’s undoing as the National Assembly considers a petition to remove him.

Still, the National Assembly’s treatment of the court order temporarily barring it from considering the petition against Prof Swazuri could leave him with a little hope to hang on to as he seeks to keep his job.

The letters were written on February 6, this year and November 14, last year and related to the two pieces of land for which former journalist Mugo Njeru wanted to be compensated by the government as the Standard Gauge Railway is passing through them.

In both letters, Prof Swazuri signed off on the determination that the land did not belong to Mr Njeru or his wife Irima but to Bakhresa Grain Millers and Dasahe Investment Ltd respectively.

In the Lands Committee on Wednesday and Thursday, focus was on the wording of the letters, especially on the last part, which read: “This proposal shall be ratified by the plenary of the commission.” The Director of Valuation and Taxation was in both cases told: “Kindly proceed to issue letters of award for compensation.”

“We want to prove whether there was a conduit and whether he took money through a conduit. We also want to establish whether the commission made decisions without a quorum. We also want to determine whether he had an interest in the plots when he was determining the owner,” said Mr Alex Mwiru, the committee’s chairman.

Asked about one of the letters, NLC vice chairperson Abigael Mukolwe said: “What is the need of the plenary if the decision has been made already?”

She said that the letter signed by Prof Swazuri determining that the land belonged to Dasahe Investments Ltd “was not part of the deliberations of the commission.”

Bakhresa was eventually paid Sh82.5 million for the land in dispute while Mr Njeru successfully stopped the payment to Dasahe Investment by going to court.

Prof Swazuri said the interpretation that the letters he signed were final was misleading because of the part where the full commission was required to ratify the determination.

In the case of the land that he had said belonged to Bakhresa, he said another letter by the Director of Survey’s had made the commission stop the payment.

The NLC’s director of finance and administration, Francis Mugo, later confirmed that the milling company had been paid for the land.

The committee’s focus on the two letters has been to ascertain whether Prof Swazuri abused his powers and made decisions that by law ought to have been made by the full commission. With his deputy, Ms Mukolwe, and NLC commissioner Tom Konyimbih disowning the letters, this would point at a breach of the law by the chairman and a possible conflict of interest.

The committee raised questions around the meetings Prof Swazuri presided over between Mr Njeru and Dasahe Investment director David Some in his office in the presence of NLC director of legal affairs Brian Ikol. It is from these meetings that a decision was made to have Mr Njeru and his wife hand over the bulk of the compensation for a plot valued at Sh43 million to Dasahe.

Mr Njeru and his lawyer Ndegwa Njiru, have claimed that the payments were meant for Prof Swazuri to take a cut.

On his part, Prof Swazuri said that the meetings he presided over were part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution provided for and encouraged by the NLC Act.

Ms Mukolwe, appeared to disagree with the method he used and told the committee there are well-laid-out procedures for going about Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The Lands Committee has had little time to question Prof Swazuri about the allegation by Mr Njeru that he delivered Sh1 million to the chairman of the commission.

This is because when he met the team on Wednesday morning, Prof Swazuri, with the assistance of his lawyer, Prof Tom Ojienda, submitted objections to the handling of the petition and asked for five days to give their response.

When their objections were overruled and they were instructed to give their response to the petition, they asked for 15 minutes to prepare themselves.

The committee used the break to get another witness, the vice chairperson of the commission, to answer their questions and it was during that time that a member alerted colleagues about a breaking news text message that Prof Swazuri had filed a case to stop them from considering the petition.

When the meeting with him resumed, the NLC chairman told the committee about the procedure for land compensation. He said the committee has handled land compensation for a myriad of government projects. “So far, we have not had any problems apart from the normal problems of people saying that it is taking too long, handling disputes…” he said.

“The reason for this petition is just a question of malice,” Prof Swazuri said.

He was asked to meet the committee again at 4pm to provide letters and other documents.

Prof Swazuri provoked anger when he walked into the meeting room with his lawyer and legal affairs official at 4pm and told the MPs: “We have got those documents but we’re not going to submit them. This is because we have obtained a court order stopping this committee.”

Mr Mwiru was furious but not as expressive as Kieni Member of Parliament Kanini Kega seated next to him.

“We knew you were going to do this with all the dilly-dallying. It is unfortunate that you are a member of the Judicial Service Commission and you go ahead and do this. Whether you hide under the table or wherever, we are going to get you,” said Mr Kega.

Mr Mwiru ruled Mr Kega out of order and said his statement should be struck off the Hansard of that meeting.

On Thursday morning, Mr Mwiru said the court order had not been served on the committee and meetings continued into the late evening after the Budget Statement was read.

The committee could deliver its verdict on the petition on Tuesday, which could complicate matters given the existence of the order stopping Parliament until after a decision is made on April 11, the next court date.

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