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Tales of State Capture: Goldenberg, Anglo Leasing, and Eurobond

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WACHIRA MAINA examines three major corruption scandals during the Moi, Kibaki and Kenyatta eras that demonstrate how state capture facilitates the massive looting of public funds, and allows the culprits to get away scot-free.

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Tales of State Capture: Goldenberg, Anglo Leasing, and Eurobond
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Corruption and politics, never the twain shall part

Politics and corruption have always been intimates in Kenya since independence. Little wonder that the first commission of inquiry appointed after independence, the 1965 Chanan Singh Maize Commission of Inquiry, was triggered by a corruption scandal involving Paul Ngei, the then Minister for Marketing and Cooperatives.

Mr Ngei had permitted his wife Emma Ngei, through her company Uhuru Millers of Kangundo (commonly referred to at the time as Emma Stores) to directly buy maize from farmers, bypassing the Maize Marketing Board, which he chaired. This was despite the fact that the law did not allow Kenyans to buy maize straight from farmers (which was cheaper than buying from the government). Worse still, Ms Ngei was permitted to buy 2,000 bags of maize, but she refused to pay for them; she wrote “return to sender” on payment demands. In addition, she refused to remit the difference between the farmers’ price and the government price to the Board, which was also against the law.

Widespread speculation in maize by well-connected individuals, coupled with the government’s failure to import more maize in time, eventually led to a national shortage. The Chanan Singh commission of inquiry was appointed by President Jomo Kenyatta to investigate the cause of the maize shortage. Because of his relationship with Uhuru Millers, Mr Ngei was briefly suspended from the cabinet but was later reinstated.

Maize, then, before and since has had a long career in both politics and corruption. That first scandal set the tone for future graft: the politically connected rigging the system to benefit themselves, their relatives and their cronies and when unmasked, resorting to inconclusive methods of investigation, such as commissions of inquiry, task forces or inept prosecutions. The difference between that early corruption and the corruption described here as state capture is that most of it involved abuse of discretion and conformed closely to Robert Klitgaard’s definition: Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion – Accountability

The first corruption scandal encompassing major characteristics of state capture was the Turkwel Gorge hydroelectric power project between 1986 and 1991. Many aspects of the process of contracting for this project entailed rigging and repurposing legal processes for the benefit of President Daniel arap Moi and his cronies. According to an internal European Commission Memorandum of March 1986 written by Achim Kratz, the then Commission’s delegate to Kenya, the contract price for the project was more than double the amount Kenya’s government would have paid under a competitive international tender. The memo stated that the government knew that the price of the French contractor Spie Batignolles was extortionate, but hired them nevertheless, “because of high personal advantages”. Those “personal advantages” were millions of dollars paid to President Daniel Arap Moi and to the then Minister of Energy, Nicholas Biwott. Moreover, companies associated with people close to Moi and Moi’s family were sub-contracted to execute many elements of the Spie Batignolles contract.

The first corruption scandal encompassing major characteristics of state capture was the Turkwel Gorge hydroelectric power project between 1986 and 1991. Many aspects of the process of contracting for this project entailed rigging and repurposing legal processes for the benefit of President Daniel arap Moi and his cronies.

The effect of the combination of personal interest and inattention to geological and hydrological factors was that when the project was finally commissioned by President Moi in October 1993, the reservoir was under 25 per cent full and the project had already consumed three times the estimated cost. The knock-on effect was probably even greater: the Turkwel corruption provoked donors to cut funding to the energy sector, which would eventually generate the crippling power outages of the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

Some of the lessons learnt from the Turkwel Gorge saga on repurposing state institutions and lawful processes to extract regime and personal gain would be applied with a vengeance to the first unambiguous case of state capture: the Goldenberg scandal.

Goldenberg: Designing the methods of state capture

In 1991 and 1992 Kenya underwent a foreign exchange crunch. The proximate cause for this was mounting pro-democracy pressure by the opposition and civil society groups, to which the government responded with violent crackdowns. Political repression and donor concern about corruption, combined with poor export performance of the leading foreign exchange earners of coffee, tea and tourism, led to a significant drop in hard currency reserves.

The government responded to this with an export promotion scheme in which exporters who deposited their hard currency earnings would not only receive the Kenya shilling equivalent of their deposits, but also an additional 20 percent “export incentive”. Goldenberg International, a company jointly owned by Kamlesh Pattni and the then director of the special branch (Kenya’s secret service), James Kanyotu, concocted a scheme to export gold and diamonds to three companies in Dubai and Switzerland on an understanding that they would be paid 35 per cent “export compensation”. The problem with this arrangement was that gold and diamonds were not covered in the Export Compensation Act and the “incentive” paid to the company was 15 per cent above the lawful limit.

The real scandal, though, was that Kenya had no diamonds and its gold mining was insignificant. In the beginning, Goldenberg International exports turned out to be entirely made up of gold smuggled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). Later, the company stopped smuggling gold altogether and merely completed export declaration forms, produced fake hard currency deposit slips and got paid, not only the coupon amount on the fake deposit slips, but also the 35 per cent export compensation.

The total cost of the scandal is unknown, but some estimates indicate that up to 10 per cent of Kenya’s GDP was lost. The 2006 Bosire Commission of Inquiry into the scandal concluded that up to Sh158.3 billion of Goldenberg money was transacted with 487 companies and individuals. This is probably a gross underestimate, as in fact Goldenberg was a series of inter-connected financial scandals rather than the phantom exports of gold and diamonds that most investigations have focused on since 1992. (The scandal was first revealed in the Controller and Auditor General’s reports for 1991 and 1992.) According to various affidavits sworn by the main suspect in Goldenberg and associated scandals, the beneficiaries of these dealings included the President, the Vice President and his business associates.

Notwithstanding revelations in the Controller’s and Auditor General’s reports, together with whistleblower accounts covered in the media, the government initially stonewalled. This prompted the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) to seek the permission of the High Court to file a private prosecution to remedy the inaction of the Attorney General (AG).

The AG, Amos Wako, suddenly bestirred himself, asking to join the LSK case as a friend of the court. He promptly opposed the LSK’s application, arguing that he had been delayed by investigation reports, and requested the LSK to hand him such evidence as they had so that he may act. Backed by an affidavit by Japhet Masya, the Clerk to the National Assembly, the AG also argued that the High Court had no jurisdiction on Goldenberg given that the issue was before a committee of Parliament.

The total cost of the scandal is unknown, but some estimates indicate that up to 10 per cent of Kenya’s GDP was lost. The 2006 Bosire Commission of Inquiry into the scandal concluded that up to Sh158.3 billion of Goldenberg money was transacted with 487 companies and individuals.

Mr Wako’s pleas were both inexplicable and disingenuous: Parliament has no criminal jurisdiction and any policy issue on Goldenberg pending before one of its committees can have no effect on an indictment for corruption. The AG sounded more like a defence attorney than the head of public prosecutions and guardian of public interest that he was.

Dr Willy Mutunga, then the chair of the LSK, feared that Mr Wako’s ruse was proof that the government was “determined to complete the Goldenberg cover-up”. Mr Wako, he predicted, would continue to act like “counsel for all the accused persons” and would engineer “protracted delays”, “mention after mention, adjournment followed by adjournment”, ending in a “dramatic withdrawal of the cases”.

So it proved. The magistrate, Uniter Kidullah, appointed the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after her decision in this case, rendered a rude and intemperate judgment, combining otiose proceduralism with personalised insults against the LSK: Mr Mutunga’s pleadings were inadmissible because he, rather than the secretary, had signed them; the LSK had no legal standing to file a private prosecution since it could not show how its interests had been harmed by the Goldenberg scandal and, so far as she could see, the LSK had acted outside its statutory mandate. Finally, she concluded that the only knowledge LSK seemed to have was that of “stealing from . . . clients”.

There the Goldenberg scandal would have died but for the government’s continuing hard currency crisis. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank warned Kenya that no new programme would be agreed with the country until the government took credible action on corruption in general and on Goldenberg in particular. It was this threat that spurred Attorney General Amos Wako to indict Pattni and his co-accused in 1997, five years after the scandal first broke.

But the charge was not meant to result in effective prosecution. Against the advice of his DPP, Bernard Chunga, the AG framed more than 90 counts in one charge in the face of clear precedent that so many counts would invalidate the charges. Knowing this, in July 1997, Kamlesh Pattni challenged the charges as illegal and was granted an order of prohibition by the High Court, stopping the trial. Donors, aghast at this turn of events, refused to lift the conditions they had imposed on aid to Kenya until Goldenberg was properly prosecuted.

A chastened AG filed new charges in August 1997, calculated to be good optics for an IMF mission that was expected in Nairobi in early 1998. In the meantime, Mr Pattni had concocted a new fraud to defeat any fresh charges that the AG might bring against him. Using forged papers, fake sale agreements backdated to 1992 with the connivance of the Registrar of Companies (in the Attorney General’s Chambers) Mr Pattni purported to be the owner of World Duty Free (WDF), the Isle of Man company to which he claimed to have sold the gold and diamonds. He then obtained court orders allowing him to take over management of WDF shops in Kenya.

The point of this devious scheme was that in a future prosecution Pattni could argue that as the owner of WDF he couldn’t be forced to testify against himself. Armed with this new civil suit, he challenged the fresh indictments, claiming these charges should be stopped as they were prejudicial to the WDF civil case. The court agreed with this risible claim, even though legal principle works the other way: where a criminal case raises the same issues as a civil case, the criminal case is heard first. There are two reasons for this: one, the public interest should be vindicated before the private interest and, two, given that the standard of proof in criminal cases – beyond reasonable doubt – is much higher than the standard in civil cases – on the balance of probabilities – it is more efficient to hear the criminal case first, since facts proved need not be proved again in the related civil case. This botched 1998 prosecution was the last action that the Moi government took to resolve the Goldenberg scandal.

In 2003, Mwai Kibaki succeeded Daniel arap Moi. He quickly set up a commission of inquiry into the Goldenberg scandal, ironically at just about the same time that his own cronies were busy siphoning monies out of Kenya under the Anglo Leasing scandal. The commission was chaired by Justice Samuel Bosire, who would later be declared as unfit to be a judge during the vetting of magistrates and judges mandated by the 2010 Constitution.

The point of this devious scheme was that in a future prosecution Pattni could argue that as the owner of WDF he couldn’t be forced to testify against himself. Armed with this new civil suit, he challenged the fresh indictments, claiming these charges should be stopped as they were prejudicial to the WDF civil case.

The Bosire Inquiry established what everyone always knew but could not prove, because the AG, Amos Wako, had developed feet of clay. Goldenberg, the commission concluded, involved the highest levels of President Moi’s government and Moi had personally authorised two Goldenberg-related payments. After the inquiry, the government imposed travel bans on people named by the commission as connected to Goldenberg. Bosire also recommended that retired President Moi’s role in Goldenberg be investigated. Nothing came of either the travel ban or the Moi investigation. In August 2006, the credibility of the report was seriously dented when Professor George Saitoti (formerly Vice President to Moi), who the commission had found culpable enough to warrant an indictment, got a court order expunging his name from that list of shame.

In the end, no one was ever convicted for any of the Goldenberg crimes. In 2006, six months after the release of the Goldenberg Report, David Munyakei – the man who first blew the whistle on the scandal only to be hounded into destitution for his efforts – died, a lonely and forgotten victim of the forces of state capture.

The Anglo Leasing Scandal

The Goldenberg script would be reprised in the second state capture case, the biggest scandal of the Kibaki era – the 2003 Anglo Leasing scandal. Anglo Leasing was a series of security-related scandals involving 18 state security contracts, collectively worth about $770 million (Sh55 billion), in which the government entered finance lease and suppliers’ credit agreements to pay for forensic facilities, security equipment and support services for Kenya Prisons, the Police Airwing, the police force, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Administration Police, the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS), and the National Counter-Terrorism Centre. Thirteen of the eighteen contracts were made under President Daniel arap Moi, the other five after 2002 under President Mwai Kibaki. The true identities and whereabouts of the companies remained unclear. Though the immediate investigation that blew open the scandal involved the Anglo Leasing and Finance Company, in truth the scandal involved many more companies owned by the same set of individuals: Deepak Kamani; Anura Perera; Amin Juma; Merlyn Kettering and Ludmilla Katuschenko.

Within these 18 generally irregular contracts, individual contracts were even more blatantly so: the contract for tamper-proof passports granted to Anglo Leasing and Finance Company was described by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – ironically chaired by Uhuru Kenyatta – as “an organised, systematic and fraudulent scheme designed to fleece the government through the so-called special purpose finance vehicles for purported security contracts”. How exactly Anglo Leasing became involved in these security contracts is unclear from the records, but the pattern itself is clear.

In 2000, the Department of Immigration did a “computer needs assessment” that concluded that to eliminate fraud, forgery, inefficiencies and revenue loss it would need to procure a passport -issuing system. This was to be done by restricted tender. The Ministerial Tender Committee invited five international firms to submit bids: two British firms, De La Rue Identity Systems and AIT International PLC; South Africa’s Face Technologies; Setec OY of Finland and Johannes Enschede of the Netherlands. Three firms responded. The decision was that AIT International PLC met both the commercial and technical specifications for the award.

However, the ministry’s budget for the 2000/2001 financial year did not cover the Sh622,039,944 contractual sum that AIT International PLC gave as the cost of the system. The procurement was deferred to 2002/2003. Six international firms were now invited to bid, the initial five and GET Group of the USA. Once again, three responded: De La Rue Identity Systems; South Africa’s Face Technologies and GET Group. The previously successful group, AIT International PLC, did not submit a bid.

A technical committee of the Government Information Technology Services concluded that none of the bids were responsive and subsequently recommended that they not only be disqualified but also that, “the system be redesigned and expanded to cover other aspects of the work of the Immigration Department, such as border controls and immigration monitoring”. It was now agreed that the expanded system would have five components: 1) high security new generation passports; 2) a secure passport issuing system; 3) high security new generation visas; 4) a high security visa-issuing system; and 5) computerisation of machine-readable immigration records. One consequence of expanding the system was a spiking of costs, which would require the Treasury to seek donor funds.

That is how matters stood when on 1 August 2003, a firm named Anglo Leasing and Finance Ltd of Alpha House, 100 Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool L19 AA, UK, sent an unsolicited technical proposal to the permanent secretary (PS) in the Vice President’s Office to supply and install an “Immigration Security and Document Control System, (ISDCS)”. The installation would be done by a sub-contractor of Anglo Leasing, François-Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire SA of Paris, France. To ease the funding problem, Anglo Leasing would offer a facility of €31,890,000 (Sh2.67 billion) to be repaid at an interest of 5% (later 4%) over a 62-month period.

On review, the PAC thought this highly irregular: a financing firm had prepared a detailed proposal for a project very similar to the one recommended by the Government Information Technology Services without a request from the government and, most curiously, in a manner that strongly suggested that the firm “had fore-knowledge of the recommendation to enhance and expand the system”.

Nonetheless, a month later, on 5 September 2003, the Vice President’s Office asked the Treasury to contract Anglo Leasing. That permission came through on 25 November 2003. Also on 5 September, the Vice President’s Office sought legal clearance from the AG’s Chambers, and in a letter dated 18 September 2003, the AG advised the ministry to do due diligence. For example, how many projects of this magnitude had Anglo Leasing successfully undertaken? What was the firm’s credit rating? The PAC did not see any evidence that tests had been undertaken or that the ministry had assessed the “authenticity, capacity, experience and track record of François-Charles Oberthur Fiduciaire”.

On review, the PAC thought this highly irregular: a financing firm had prepared a detailed proposal for a project very similar to the one recommended by the Government Information Technology Services without a request from the government and, most curiously, in a manner that strongly suggested that the firm “had fore-knowledge of the recommendation to enhance and expand the system”.

Even with all these things still outstanding, the government signed the Suppliers Services and Financing Credit Agreement for the ISDCS on 4 December 2003, and two months later, on 4 February 2004, a sum of Sh91,678,169.25 (described variously as “arrangement”, “commitment” and “administration” fees) was paid out to Anglo Leasing.

According to John Githongo’s dossier to the President, all the Anglo Leasing-type shell companies were probably established by one Pritpal Singh Thethy, an accountant and engineer who was associated with Anura Perera. These companies routinely won large contracts to supply goods and services at inflated prices to the security services and were notorious for paying generous kickbacks.

The unravelling of Anglo Leasing began when Maoka Maore, the MP for Ntonyiri, tabled documents in Parliament in April 2004, showing that Anglo Leasing and Finance Company Limited had been paid a Sh91 million commitment fee, amounting to 3 per cent of a Sh2.7 billion contract to produce the tamper-proof passports. The Department of Governance and Ethics, headed by John Githongo, tried to get to the bottom of the affair.

In that same month, whilst on a visit to the United Kingdom he asked Kroll Associates to do some due diligence on Anglo Leasing and discovered that no such company existed. Githongo had begun to suspect that very senior officials in the Kibaki administration were involved. Early suspects included Vice President Moody Awori, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Kiraitu Murungi, Minister for Finance David Mwiraria, Minister for Internal Security Chris Murungaru, Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Sylvester Mwaliko, Finance Permanent Secretary Joseph Magari, Internal Security Permanent Secretary David Mwangi, Alfred Getonga, Deepak Kamani and Jimmy Wanjigi.

From an early stage in a series of private meetings, the Vice President, as well as the ministers for justice and finance, assiduously tried to stop the investigation, partly based on the theory that “the Vice President had already given a parliamentary statement”. The scale of Anglo Leasing and the depth of its penetration into the inner sanctum of power would become much clearer over the next few months. It turned out that even as investigations kicked off, additional payments and commitment fees were being processed.

When these stories hit the media, the then Secretary to the Cabinet, Francis Muthaura, said that Anglo Leasing had contacted him and promised to repay the monies they had already received. Shortly thereafter, on 14 May 2004, Anglo Leasing and Finance Ltd wired back €956,700 from Schroder & Co Bank AG in Zurich.

Investigations would reveal even more dirt. By early June, inquiries had established that Anglo Leasing had been paid $5 million for a forensic laboratories contract for which they had done no work. The brains behind the revival of this Moi-era contract were Deepak Kamani, Jimmy Wanjigi, Chris Murungaru, Dave Mwangi, Alfred Getonga, and C. Oyula, the Financial Secretary. It was clear that there were many more Anglo Leasing type contracts, and eventually 16 of them would become public.

From an early stage in a series of private meetings, the Vice President, as well as the ministers for justice and finance, assiduously tried to stop the investigation, partly based on the theory that “the Vice President had already given a parliamentary statement”. The scale of Anglo Leasing and the depth of its penetration into the inner sanctum of power would become much clearer over the next few months.

The case of two of these Anglo Leasing-type companies – Sound Day Corporation and Apex Finance Corporation – closely followed the conspiratorial modus operandi of the contracts for the tamper-proof passports. The two companies, which were managed by Brian Mills, a US national, had signed four contracts, cumulatively worth more than $145 million. According to newspaper accounts, the three Kamanis – Chamanlal Kamani, Deepak Kamani and Rashmi Kamani – became directors of Sound Day in April 1990. Sound Day, like other Anglo Leasing companies, was to provide credit, as well as supply the equipment to be financed through that credit. However, the contract terms were that the equipment would not be supplied until the government paid the first instalment. Sound Day provided no credit, but charged 3 per cent interest on this “financing” whilst, in fact, the financing was the money that had been advanced by the Kenyan government in the first place. This Byzantine arrangement was later described in court as a “classic case of reverse financing”.

As Anglo Leasing unravelled, the attempts to stop investigations became both frantic and menacing. The Minister for Finance, David Mwiraria, indicated that he would not lay before Parliament a damning special audit report compiled by the Controller and Auditor-General until the Treasury had made some “major changes”. The Minister for Justice, Kiraitu Murungi, weighed in with the caution that Mr Githongo should be careful not to “knock out key political people” like Alfie (Alfred Gitonga) and Murungaru given that both were “key players at the very heart of government”. He would later add that, “if Chris [Murungaru] is dropped and Alfie [Gitonga] is dropped we are in trouble, the enemy will have won”. According to him, people were concerned that John Githongo “did not appreciate the political costs of his work”.

A different politician was later to emphasise these warnings, saying that if Githongo’s investigations threatened the “stability of the regime” then the President would stop backing him. Both Mwiraria and Kiraitu said that they hoped that the investigations would stop as soon as Anglo Leasing repaid the money. Over time, the cover-up efforts would turn bizarre: Francis Muthaura even questioned the legal authority of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) to conduct the investigation and implied that the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act was not reasonable legislation, ostensibly because of the broad powers it gave to the KACC.

What the pressure on Githongo and the repayment of the money on the publicly known contracts revealed was a clever ploy to head off investigators from the other numerous yet to be known contracts by issuing a mea culpa on what was then publicly known.

One issue surrounding the scandal is what President Kibaki knew and when he knew it. For instance, on the forensic labs contract, the Secretary to the Cabinet had indicated to Githongo that he had briefed the President on this contract, but when Githongo met the President on 29 May 2004 Kibaki said that no one had briefed him and asked to be furnished with a copy of the contract. Two days later, Muthaura would insist that the President had been fully briefed and that it had been agreed that all payments were to be stopped and that the authorities must establish who Anglo Leasing were.

Later still, Mwiraria would claim that the President had requested that they “go easy” on Anglo Leasing given that the money had now been returned. Mwiraria and Kiraitu would argue that if the public were to know that there were other corrupt deals of this magnitude, “our government would fall”. Had the President in fact said this or were Mwiraria and Kiraitu using the authority of the Presidency to smother inquiries? Had the President lied when he told Githongo that he had not been briefed?

From the determined opposition to his inquiries, the lukewarm support he received from the President and the threatening messages that he received throughout this early phase of the investigation, Githongo feared for his life and went into self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom in 2005. His conclusion was that the Anglo Leasing scandal went all the way to the top and that its baseline was a scheme to finance the 2007 election.

One issue surrounding the scandal is what President Kibaki knew and when he knew it. For instance, on the forensic labs contract, the Secretary to the Cabinet had indicated to Githongo that he had briefed the President on this contract, but when Githongo met the President on 29 May 2004 Kibaki said that no one had briefed him and asked to be furnished with a copy of the contract.

In November 2005, President Mwai Kibaki finally acted. He dropped Chris Murungaru from the Cabinet. On 1 February, he dropped David Mwiraria and a fortnight later he had “accepted” Kiraitu Murungi’s resignation. Although 80 MPs demanded that the President fire his Vice President, Moody Awori, the President demurred. As with Goldenberg, the government imposed the usual travel bans on the principals and announced that it would also freeze their assets. Whether this happened or not is unclear; there is no official indication that it did.

In 2007, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office tried to get to the bottom of a $30 million transfer made by Apex Finance, one of the Anglo Leasing companies, between April 2002 and February 2004 through the Channel Island tax havens of Jersey and Guernsey. But by 2009 this effort had petered out, partly due to obstruction by Kenya. That same year, authorities in Switzerland launched investigations into Swiss companies named in the scam and froze their bank accounts. It, too, came to naught. By the time President Kibaki had served out his two terms in 2013, no action had been taken on Anglo Leasing.

The next time Anglo Leasing would be in the news was in early 2014, ahead of the country’s debut launch of a $2 billion sovereign bond, half of which would disappear into thin air in the biggest scandal of the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency. The facts were as follows. Kenya had lost a lawsuit in Geneva filed by two Anglo Leasing companies linked to Anura Perera – First Mercantile Securities Corporation and Universal Satspace. (Perera was one of the suspects named in the 2006 special audit of Anglo Leasing.) It then turned out that the country had to pay Sh1.4 billion to improve its credibility with international markets by clearing its (ostensible) debts in preparation for the launch of its debut in the foreign sovereign bond market, the Eurobond.

This was odd for two reasons. First, there was also a contrary judgment from the High Court in Kenya. Justice Mathew Anyara Emukule had ruled in 2012 that the two companies were non-existent entities that could not sue. Second, the government had claimed that the contract was vitiated by bribery and there was a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) audit showing that the goods were over-priced and some had never been delivered, even though payments had been made. The Geneva court rejected these PWC findings.

As a matter of Kenyan law, the government had paid this large sum to non-existent parties. According to Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, it was necessary to pay out this amount lest the country suffer huge interest penalties. The Deputy Solicitor General, Muthoni Kimani, buttressed the Treasury’s argument with the claim that the Anura Perera litigation in Switzerland had adversely affected the issuing of the sovereign bond. Hot on the heels of this payment, National Treasury Permanent Secretary Kamau Thugge told the Public Accounts Committee that Mr Perera was now demanding an additional Sh3.05 billion for services given to the National Security Intelligence Service, now known as the NIS. (According to Thugge, Perera’s new demand related to another project, Flagstaff National Counter Terrorism Centre,that the government had contracted in 2004 at a cost of $41,800,000.)

A payment of $16.4 million to Deepak Kamani in 2014, also purportedly to facilitate the launch of the Eurobond, seems to have triggered the government’s interest in prosecuting the Anglo Leasing principals. In March 2015, 11 years after the scandal broke, 13 people connected to Anglo Leasing, including businessman Deepak Kamani and former minister Chris Obure, now a senator, were indicted.

The prosecution might be explained by President Kenyatta’s fury at the $16.4 million (Sh1.6 billion) Kamani payment and the extra Sh3.05 billion being demanded by Perera. In addition, some pressure seems to have come from Switzerland. Jacques Pitteloud, the Swiss ambassador to Kenya, told the Financial Times that Switzerland was tired of suffering reputational loss as a safe haven for stolen money. But the real political reason could well be that prosecuting Anglo Leasing deflected attention from scandals involving the friends and relatives of Mr Kenyatta. None of the targets of the Anglo Leasing indictments were connected to the Kenyattas.

As with Goldenberg, none of the arrests and indictments have so far led to convictions. This script of never holding to account those involved in state capture scandals would be replayed by Uhuru Kenyatta, as President, when he was himself caught up in the Eurobond scandal.

The Eurobond Scandal

Less than a year after the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in March 2013, Kenya went to the international money markets to issue Kenya’s first sovereign bond worth $2.75 billion. This was done in two tranches. The first issue raised $2 billion (Sh176 billion at the time) and the second $815 million (Sh74 billion) for a total of $2.8 billion (Sh250 billion). The government said that the money would be used to reduce official borrowing from the domestic market, which would spur private investment by lowering interest rates.

According to an analysis by economist David Ndii, the government executed two transactions from the offshore account into which the $2 billion had been credited. It paid off a pending loan of $604 million (Sh53 billion) and then transferred $394 million (Sh35 billion) to the exchequer, leaving $1.002 billion (Sh88 billion) in that account. The government has never accounted for this money.

When inconsistencies were pointed out, the government responded with both lies and insults. The lies were that up to Sh120 billion had been used partly to pay pending bills to road contractors and for budget support. But as Ndii points out, the recurrent budget for the 2014/2015 financial year was funded by domestic revenues: the government raised Sh1.106 trillion in revenues, of which Sh229 billion was transferred to the counties. That left Sh877 billion for national government functions. The national government’s recurrent budget for that year was Sh897 billion, a mere Sh20 billion more than the revenue, reflecting no inflow of the Sh120 billion as claimed. According to this logic, the national government required only Sh20 billion more than what it had earned through revenue, so there was no way it could have used the Sh88 billion from the bond.

In its first public statement on the matter, the Treasury promised to give information on the projects that the Eurobond money had funded. It subsequently gave ministries three weeks to furnish the relevant information. Five weeks later, in an interview with Business Daily, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance lamented that “the ministries cannot differentiate whether the money they have received from the Exchequer came from VAT, income taxes, customs duties, excise taxes, domestic borrowing or the Eurobond”. This is true but irrelevant to the issue. Treasury should have been able to provide the answer. As Ndii points out, the government has a monitoring and evaluation responsibility. “For the Treasury to disburse a huge external loan, the biggest ever, without expenditure tracking seems downright irresponsible,” he commented.

In the following months, the government would “torture” the figures to show that the missing Eurobond money had indeed financed development projects. This was done by “wildly” (Ndii’s word) inflating the cost of nine projects in the energy sector that showed overruns of nearly Sh67 billion. Rural electrification of primary schools was said to have cost Sh34 billion rather than the Sh9.9 billion that had been budgeted. An unbudgeted item for the financial year, military modernisation, gobbled up another Sh62.8 billion. The point of cooking the figures, Ndii surmised, was to create a plausible storyline to explain the missing Eurobond money. “How high up does this fraud go?” he asked.

The government couldn’t – or rather wouldn’t – answer this question directly but its conduct in the coming years had the guilty air of an adulterer caught in flagrante delicto. As David Ndii explained, the government’s real problem was that it could not account for the Eurobond money that it had not spent and still manage to balance its accounts. In the 2014/15 financial year, it partially pulled off this miracle by reducing domestic borrowing for the year from Sh251 billion to Sh110 billion. The Sh140 billion reduction covered the exact amount of Eurobond money that it claimed to have carried forward from 2013/14. Unfortunately, this voodoo accounting was undone by the Central Bank accounts on domestic borrowing and was flatly contradicted by the interest that the government reported having paid on domestic borrowing for the year.

In the following months, the government would “torture” the figures to show that the missing Eurobond money had indeed financed development projects. This was done by “wildly” (Ndii’s word) inflating the cost of nine projects in the energy sector that showed overruns of nearly Sh67 billion.

In 2016 the Auditor General, Edward Ouko, tried to get to the bottom of the affair by conducting a forensic audit of Eurobond transfers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As part of his preparations, he told Parliament that he had already made appointments with top US and UK financial institutions involved in the transactions. Mr Ouko promised to send forensic auditors to scrutinise transaction data at JP Morgan, the Federal Reserve Bank, City Transaction Services New York, JP Securities, Barclays Bank, ICB Standard Bank, Qatar National Bank and other banks that had handled the $2 billion Eurobond transactions.

Mr Kenyatta promptly blocked the investigation, arguing, implausibly, that by saying that “the Eurobond money was stolen and stashed in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York”, Mr Ouko was implying that the Kenyan government and the United States had colluded. “Who is stupid here?” the President scornfully asked.

In the next few years, the government became cockier and more belligerent. With the Auditor General not allowed to follow the international money trail, he was reduced to informing Parliament at the end of each audit year that “investigations into the receipts, accounting and use of funds related to the Sovereign/Eurobond are still ongoing and the accuracy of the net proceeds of Kshs 215,469,626,035.75 is yet to be ascertained”.

As Ndii’s analysis pointed out, unravelling this mystery should not have been as complicated as the Auditor General’s laconic conclusion might suggest and the Treasury’s effort to explain the mystery only compounded it, even with the IMF weighing in to support the official explanation. But as the Mozambique Eurobond story shows, the IMF has been criminally negligent in these matters.

In this case, the IMF’s attempt to aid the government was unavailing. The Fund showed that Eurobond money was received and spent in the 2013/14 financial year. But given that the Eurobond money was received in the last week of that financial year, it would not have been possible for it to be spent in that year. There was no drawdown until the first week of July, which was the start of the 2014/15 financial year. The difference between the Fund’s fiddling and the Treasury’s fiddling was that the IMF reported a domestic borrowing figure of Sh251 billion for 2014/15 domestic borrowing, whilst the Treasury showed one of Sh110 billion. As Ndii noted, “The IMF cooks the books one way, and the Treasury, the other”.

Mr Kenyatta promptly blocked the investigation, arguing, implausibly, that by saying that “the Eurobond money was stolen and stashed in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York”, Mr Ouko was implying that the Kenyan government and the United States had colluded. “Who is stupid here?” the President scornfully asked.

But the Treasury’s lies were also compounded by the mandarins’ poor memory. By 2015/2016, they seemed to have forgotten the 2014/2015 numbers. Now the Treasury reported Sh251 billion as the correct domestic borrowing figure. With Sh251 billion confirmed as the correct amount, the only way to account for the Eurobond Sh140 billion was to show the projects in which it was invested. That no such projects have been named implies that at least $1 billion of the Eurobond money has disappeared into thin air. The conclusion that it has most likely been stolen by some very senior untouchables is compelling.

With investigations never having been started, the Auditor General, beaten down by the President, and the marked lack of enthusiasm from the United States (particularly the New York Federal Reserve), it is unlikely that we will know who stole nearly $1billion of taxpayers’ money.

This is Part 3 of an abridged version of State Capture: Inside Kenya’s Inability to Fight Corruption, a report published by the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) in May 2019.

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Wachira Maina is a constitutional lawyer based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Politics

No War, No Peace: Life and Death in Eritrea

Thirty years after Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, there has hardly been any meaningful development in this small nation in the Horn of Africa. On the contrary, the government’s authoritarian policies have undermined democracy and forced young people to flee the country.

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No War, No Peace: Life and Death in Eritrea
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Eritrea was an Italian colony from 1890 to 1941. Following the defeat of Italian forces by the Allied Forces during World War Two, Britain occupied Eritrea until its federation to Ethiopia in 1952. However, by 1962 Emperor Haile Selassie had annexed Eritrea, declaring that it was part of Ethiopia, and in this way ending the federation.

In 1961, a year before the annexation, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) started an armed struggle for independence from Ethiopia. The armed struggle continued for 30 years against successive Ethiopian regimes until 1991, when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), who had replaced the ELF, defeated the Ethiopian forces in Eritrea. Eritrea became formally independent following a United Nations-supervised referendum in 1993.

From the beginning, the EPLF (now the People’s Front of Democracy and Justice – PFDJ)’s strategy for achieving liberation and national unity was for it to dominate all social, political, and economic spaces. The PFDJ implemented a highly centralised and opaque two-track system of administration: an unseen, powerful inner circle of elites; and public structures that projected an image of egalitarian self-sufficiency. This centralised and opaque model of governance continues today.

Since liberation, PFDJ has banned all opposition parties and treats all non-mass-movement organisations (i.e. independent civil society) with suspicion; hence there are no independent national civil society organisations in the country. Without any consultation, the PFDJ has nationalised all land; it has established a unitary form of government, and it has changed the administrative boundaries within the country. Despite these totalitarian tendencies, in 1994, the PFDJ, as the Provisional Government of Eritrea, set up the Constitutional Assembly to draft the Constitution. The task was completed in 1997. But the Constitution remains unimplemented.

Border dispute

In 1998, hostilities and war between Eritrea and Ethiopia resumed over border demarcation issues, particularly in the town of Bademe. By December 2000, the two countries signed the Algiers Peace Agreement and established the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC) to determine the limits of their shared border.

The EEBC delivered its border decision on 13th April 2002, placing the town of Bademe, the flashpoint of the border conflict, on the Eritrean side. The Ethiopian government contested the allocation of Bademe to Eritrea. Therefore, a situation of “no war, no peace” ensued between the two countries as President Isaias Afewerki refused any dialogue on the issue because the parties had agreed that the decision of the EEBC was final and binding.

President Isaias Afwerki, who is also the chair of the PFDJ, took advantage of the strained relationship with Ethiopia to:

  1. indefinitely postpone the implementation of the 1997 Constitution as well as the general elections;
  2. arrest and disappear dissenters, especially University of Asmara students and the members of the government known as G15 who promoted a democratisation process (2001);
  3. close the independent media and arrest journalists (2001);
  4. abolish the Eritrean National Assembly (i.e. the Eritrean Parliament) (2002);
  5. maintain a high level of militarisation of the country.

To maintain a high level of militarisation, the government vertically integrated the National Service to the National Development Programme (i.e. the Warsay Yikaalo National Development Programme) and to Education. This integration allows the Eritrean government to move students into the National Service and the National Development Programme from high schools (i.e. Grade 12) and indefinitely extends the period of service of the conscripts, hence taking full control over the working population.

In 1998, hostilities and war between Eritrea and Ethiopia resumed over border demarcation issues, particularly in the town of Bademe. By December 2000, the two countries signed the Algiers Peace Agreement and established the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC) to determine the limits of their shared border.

Through the integration of the National Service into the Warsay Yikaalo National Development Programme and Education, the government has limited the citizenship rights of conscripts who while in service cannot: legally obtain a mobile phone or SIM card; get or renew a business licence; access land; and access travel documents and exit visas. Deserters or objectors are denied any rights and cannot access state services. Thus, the official Eritrean concept of citizenship is intrinsically linked to conscription and the fulfilment of National Service duties.

The National Service is a combination of military training and civil service, working for little pay in non-military activities such as agriculture, the construction of roads, houses and buildings and mining. The Warsay National Development Programme relies on the deployment of te National Service (Warsay) and defence personnel (Yikaalo) as a labour force. The programme operates under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defence.

Since 2003, the government has closed the University of Asmara (the only university in the country). It has also required that all Eritrean students complete Grade 12 at the Sawa military training camp. Students who have not completed their final year of secondary school at Sawa and have not sat for the National School Certificat, cannot access college education. The PFDJ has replaced Asmara University with regional colleges, which are administered jointly by an academic director and a military director.

National Service conscripts work for an indefinite period on development projects, the administration of ministries and local authorities, as well as in PFDJ-owned businesses. Such work is carried out for very little pay and in conditions that a UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea described as “forced labour”.

The Eritrean authorities’ control over the people includes the restriction of movement both internally and externally. Therefore, all Eritreans aged five and above cannot leave the country without an exit visa. The government will not issue an exit visa to any Eritrean above the age of five, irrespective of their situation (i.e. family reunification, health, etc.)

The government’s control over the Eritrean people is a political, social and economic process of deprivation and human rights violations for which it refuses to take any responsibility. It is systematically impoverishing the population. Therefore, Eritrean youth face having to choose between the life of slave labour or exile. They describe their situation as slavery: “[The] situation in Eritrea and long time ago with slaves is the same. We build the houses of the elites without money. We work on farms of government officials for no money. If you are educated, they deploy you to anywhere…for a short time, you can tolerate it…but this is for life.”

Faced with accusations of human rights violations, the government reverts to “threat” mode. It labels any reference to human rights violations as “lies” and “ploys” of its enemies to undermine the state. The PFDJ Head of Political Affairs, Mr Yemane Gebreab, dismissed the findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human rights by saying: “….[it is] really laughable……There is no basis to the claims of the Commission of Inquiry…”

The Eritrean authorities’ control over the people includes the restriction of movement both internally and externally. Therefore, all Eritreans aged five and above cannot leave the country without an exit visa.

In addition to taking control over the working population, the government also took control of the economic sectors, including finance, import and export, transport and construction. It has achieved control over the economic sphere through a process of unfair competition with private business, facilitated by the fact that it does not pay taxes and does not comply with labour, environmental, and other regulatory requirements. Also, as the regime has control over the working population, it has unlimited access to a large pool of free labour, effecting a net transfer of the workforce away from the private sector. This policy of moving human resources to labour sites identified and controlled by the government has crippled the private sector, especially the agricultural industry, which still relies to a large extent on subsistence farming.

The government’s control and domination of the economy have not increased economic activity or productivity. The economy is stagnating, further weakening the private sector and restricting economic opportunities for Eritreans.

Notwithstanding PFDJ’s rhetoric, Eritrean youth experience the state as an albatross around their necks. They understand the state in terms of spy networks; as a human rights violator curtailing civil, political, and economic rights and as the as the source of torture and deprivation. They see it as the source of all restrictions and deprivations. This is the reason why they flee the country.

Peace Agreement with Ethiopia and its aftermath

In April 2018, the Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy announced the acceptance of the EEBC decision, in particular the allocation of the flashpoint town of Bademe to Eritrea. In this way, he started a process that led to the signing of the Ethiopia Eritrea Peace Agreement in July 2018, thus ending two decades of “no war, no peace”. The land borders opened to much jubilation in 2018. However, by April 2019, the Eritrean government had closed them all. So far, the only achievements of the Peace Agreement are the reopening of embassies and telecommunication lines and the resumption of flights.

The signing of the Peace Agreement immediately raised expectations that there would be a normalisation of relations between the two states. It also raised expectations regarding reforms within Eritrea that would lead to a reduction in the number of Eritrean youth fleeing the country. Soon after the signing of the Peace Agreement, the Eritrean Catholic priest Aba Teklemichael pointed to the sweeping reforms implemented by Prime Minister Abiy in Ethiopia, and urged the Eritrean government to also undertake necessary reforms in Eritrea and to democratise the government. By Easter 2019, the Eritrean Catholic bishops were also calling for a constitutional government and the rule of law. They also encouraged the government to release political prisoners and start a process of reconciliation within the country. However, to date there have been no reforms in the country, a state of affairs confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea who at the start of this year reported that she had: “ ……no tangible evidence of a meaningful and substantive improvement in the situation of human rights in Eritrea”.

The signing of the Peace Agreement immediately raised expectations that there would be a normalisation of relations between the two states. It also raised expectations regarding reforms within Eritrea that would lead to a reduction in the number of Eritrean youth fleeing the country.

The ongoing peace process is not transparent; it has mostly remained an elite political level agreement unable to deliver on the economic front or to resolve the issue of Bademe as both Prime Minister Abiy and President Isaias Afewerki have marginalised the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) for political motives. The Eritrean government has increasingly identified the Tigray State and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as an existential threat to Eritrea, thus justifying the maintenance of a high level of militarisation. Consequently, Eritrean youth continue to flee the country. In 2018, UNHCR ranked Eritrea as the ninth-largest refugee-sending state in the world.

Ailing health sector

The totalitarian agenda of the Eritrean government did not spare the health sector either. The task of reconstructing the Eritrean health system after the liberation struggle and following the 1998-2000 Eritrea-Ethiopia border war was monumental. It was an undertaking that the late and former Minister of Health Saleh Meki undertook with passion, commitment, and zest from 1997 to 2009 when Ms Amina Nurhussein replaced him.

In his efforts rebuild the Eritrean health system, Saleh Meki sought to establish strategic partnerships with critical international health institutions, private practitioners, faith-based organisations, such as the Catholic Church, as well as professional members of the Eritrean diaspora. The former Minister of Health carried on with his efforts despite the enormous pressure to conform to the dictates of President Isaias Afwerki, and the concerns generated by the closure of international non-governmental organisations, as well as the restriction of movement imposed on all organisations working in the country. Against all the odds, he re-established the medical school known as the Orotta Medical School.

Saleh Meki died on 2nd October 2009. Soon after his death, all the medical missions of international organisations that he had worked so hard to bring to Eritrea ended. By 2011 the Eritrean Government forced the closure of all private medical clinics. And, by 2018 a total of 29 Catholic health facilities providing maternal and child health support and serving some of the more remote communities in the country were closed. The seizure and closure, of the Catholic health facilities was carried out in complete disregard to the health and safety of the patients, most of whom were left to fend for themselves.

There was no clear justification for the closure of the private health facilities. However, the closure of the Catholic health facilities was justified as an enforcement of the 1995 Proclamation to standardise and articulate religions institutions (Proclamation No 73 of 1995). The Proclamation prohibits religious bodies from engaging in social and welfare services. This position is contested by all faith-based organisations, especially since there was no consultation in the development of the law. The Eritrean Catholic bishops’ communication with the government on the seizure and closure of their health facilities point out that the facilities operated by abiding with all the requirements of the Ministry of Health.

Poor COVID-19 response

The closure of health facilities has reduced the number of available beds and the overall capacity of the health system. Hence, Eritrea, with a score of 0.434, was ranked 182nd out of 189 countries by the 2019 Human Development Index. The low Human Development Index combined with a hospital bed capacity of 7 beds for 10,000 people, and no available data as to the number of health professionals (i.e. doctors and nurses) available per 10,000 people, suggests that the situation might be even more dire. And the poor connectivity of the country (i.e. mobile phones, internet, broadbands) means that the country’s capacity to deal with pandemics such as COVID-19 is low.

The low capacity of the Eritrean health system to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic was also of concern to the diaspora Eritrean Healthcare Professionals Network (EHPN), which urged the Eritrean government to immediately implement the World ealth Orbanization (WHO) and Centre for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and advisories to contain the pandemic. EHPN expressed concern that the country lacks the necessary prerequisites to implement hygiene measures because: “There is a shortage of water, disinfectants, laboratories that carry out diagnostic tests and medical professionals, including nursing and technical staff. There is also a lack of functioning intensive care units with adequate ventilation equipment needed to properly treat patients. The reality is that many Eritreans will not be able to seek and obtain medical treatment in their homeland or neighbouring countries. In short, the Eritrean health system is not adequately prepared for COVID 19.”

Fears regarding the poor state of the Eritrean health system were further heightened when the Eritrean government refused COVID-19 emergency supplies donated by the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and his Alibaba Group. Mr Hagos “Kisha” Gebrehiwet, the head of Economic Affairs in the ruling PFDJ, justified the rejection of Jack Ma’s donation by saying that it was unsolicited.

The government’s willingness to reject donations has, however, launched a COVID-19 appeal among citizens. The appeal is remarkable for the lack of information as to how the funds raised will be used. There is no single COVID-19 emergency response bank account designated for the appeal; hence, in the diaspora, funds are collected in different foreign bank accounts set up by Eritrean embassies. Consequently, there is a real danger that the funds will never enter the country and will disappear into the government’s opaque offshore financial system. Also, there is no information as to how the Ministry of Health will use the funds. Reports by Eritrean human rights activists say the appeal is coerced, confirming the lack of transparency and accountability of the fundraising process.

There is also no transparency in the COVID-19 data that the Eritrean government is providing. It reported the first four COVID-positive cases on the 21st and 23rd of March. One patient was an Eritrean national resident in Norway, and the other three positive patients were Eritrean nationals returning from Dubai. Because of these events, by 26th March, the government banned all commercial passenger flights for two weeks. It also closed schools. And, by 1st April, it imposed COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Fears regarding the poor state of the Eritrean health system were further heightened when the Eritrean government refused COVID-19 emergency supplies donated by the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and his Alibaba Group. Mr Hagos “Kisha” Gebrehiwet, the head of Economic Affairs in the ruling PFDJ, justified the rejection of Jack Ma’s donation by saying that it was unsolicited.

The lockdown measures did not include the closure of the Sawa military training camp or the release of political prisoners. The government has recently released 27 Christian prisoners, who were imprisoned without charge or trial for as long as sixteen years. Their release is conditional on their family lodging their property deeds with the government as a guarantee that the people released will not leave the country.

While maintaining a strict lockdown, the Eritrean government has allowed mass gatherings to celebrate the graduation of the 33rd round of Sawa military training camp graduates as well as the transfer of Grade 12 conscripts to the facility.

From 1st April to 18th April, the Eritrean government reported 39 COVID positive cases, all linked to Eritreans visiting or returning from their travels. Then, for two months, there were no new cases reported. After that, the number of COVID-positive cases increased, and by the 12th of October, Eritrea reported a total of 414 COVID-positive patients and 372 recoveries.

Though the government makes repeated references to quarantine centres, it has not shared a list of the centres, their location or capacity. It is also not reporting the daily number of COVID tests. Nor has it reported any COVID-related deaths or any community transmission of the virus. It continues to attribute all the new COVID cases to Eritreans returning through “irregular land and sea routes” from Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Yemen. But there is no explanation as to why so many nationals are travelling despite the government’s strict lockdown procedure that prohibits all movement between towns and that restricts te movement of any vehicles, including buses and taxis, which require movement permits. Such permits are not easy to obtain.

Finally, there are only five incidents of Ministry of Information reporting the number of individuals tested or in quarantine:

  1. 3,000 quarantined – 8th May 2020;
  2. 5,270 quarantined – 3rd June 2020;
  3. 7,158 nationals returned through irregular land and sea routes. Not clearly stated but the implication is that they were all quarantined – 14th June 2020;
  4. 18,000 citizens allegedly returned through irregular land and sea routes. This movement occurred in the last four months. Again, not clearly stated but the implication is that they were all quarantined – the 12th October 2020;
  5. 41,100 tests – 12th October 2020.

In a recent report, the Eritrean Ministry of Information asserted that the rate of COVID infection in the country was “a paltry 0.02%”, based on one (1) positive result during 4659 random tests done in Asmara”. The data shared by the government (41,100 tests and 414 COVID-positive cases) suggests that the rate of infection is just 1 per cent.

The COVID lockdown in Eritrea, like in other countries, has brought economic activities to a standstill. The difference between Eritrea and other countries is that the Eritrean economy was already on its knees before the lockdown and the Eritrean government has not made any attempt – beyond extorting donations from its citizens – to alleviate the suffering of the people with economic support packages. Consequently, Eritreans are hungry and desperate and have started to ignore strict lockdowns. They are on the streets selling all kinds of goods. Women are out in the streets, making tea and cooking food for sale. Family and friends describe Asmara, the capital city, as full of mobile tea shops.

In a recent report, the Eritrean Ministry of Information asserted that the rate of COVID infection in the country was “a paltry 0.02%”, based on one (1) positive result during 4659 random tests done in Asmara”. The data shared by the government (41,100 tests and 414 COVID-positive cases) suggests that the rate of infection is just 1 per cent.

The Eritrean Afars have, through the Red Sea Afar Human Rights Organisation (RSAHRO), issued a press statement, describing their situation under lockdown as a: “… siege imposed by the Eritrean regime on the citizens of the region.”. They warn of the danger of hunger in their area. They also describe confiscation of boats, camels and supplies by the military, closed health centres, unprepared quarantine centres, as well as lack of medical supplies. The human rights organisation also accuse General Tekle Manjus of confiscating trucks of emergency food sent from Asmara for distribution among the Afar.

The Afar coastal area is not the only area in danger of hunger. The information from Eritrea is that hunger is very real all over the country. The government media and social media accounts do not report the danger of hunger or any of the difficulties that the people are facing during this COVID-19 emergency. Their postings give the impression that Eritrea is doing just fine.

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Politics

The Search for a Puppet Chief Justice

The emotional energy invested in controlling the recruitment of the next Chief Justice could turn out to be a source of great frustration when administrative fiat and bench-fixing do not deliver the anticipated results.

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The Search for a Puppet Chief Justice
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Anxiety over who will replace Chief Justice David Maraga exploded into the public domain on Friday, October 16, 2020, when a member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) alleged a plot to delay the recruitment process. Macharia Njeru, one of the two representatives of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) to the JSC, claimed in a public statement that the Chief Justice and a few others were “hellbent on derailing the orderly recruitment of his successor and leaving the institution of the Judiciary in a crisis of leadership”.

LSK immediately dissociated itself from Macharia’s position and asserted that the “state capture of the Judiciary and the Judicial Service Commission would not be executed through its representatives”.

The parliamentary Justice and Legal Affairs Committee had earlier failed to prevail on Justice Maraga to take early terminal leave, and subsequently published a proposal to change the law on when to begin recruitment of a new Chief Justice. The Chief Justice will officially retire on January 12, 2021, when he turns 70, but he is expected to take leave on December 15, 2020.

Powerful individuals in the country’s politics cannot wait to see Justice Maraga’s back because of his surprising show of spine. On September 1, 2017, the mild-mannered and soft-spoken jurist led a four-judge majority of the Supreme Court to annul the presidential election in a decision that reverberated across the globe. Last month, Justice Maraga advised the President to dissolve Parliament for failing enact laws to increase representation of women in national elected leadership on the strength of a High Court declaration and six petitions.

Between the two monumental decisions, the Chief Justice has called out the President over judiciary budget cuts, disregard for court orders and verbal attacks on the institution he leads.

Justice Maraga’s name conjures up odium and foreboding in state organs at the executive and legislative levels, expressed through punitive budget cuts in the Judiciary, disregard of courts’ authority, and derisive rhetoric. None of these backhanded actions have brought the politically powerful any satisfaction, hence the abiding desire to find a more user-friendly Chief Justice.

Vacancies in the Judiciary can only be advertised fourteen days after they open up, according to the law, which means that the Chief Justice, who also chairs the JSC, plays no role in recruiting his successor. Previously, individuals in the presidency unsuccessfully sought to influence who becomes Chief Justice since the Constitution of Kenya, on its promulgation in 2010, retired Justice Evan Gicheru in February 2011. At the time, President Mwai Kibaki nominated the Court of Appeal’s Justice Alnashir Visram for Chief Justice without inviting applications or conducting interviews. He was countermanded by the newly-constituted JSC, which then conducted one of the most brutal public interviews for the position before choosing civil society icon and law scholar Willy Mutunga.

Justice Maraga’s name conjures up odium and foreboding in state organs at the executive and legislative levels, expressed through punitive budget cuts in the Judiciary, disregard of courts’ authority, and derisive rhetoric.

Dr Mutunga’s transparent recruitment freed him from the usual baggage that would accompany a political appointment to lead the transformation of the judiciary into an independent, publicly accountable institution [Full disclosure: I was communication advisor in the Office of the Chief Justice from 2011 to 2015]. By the time Dr Mutunga chose to retire a year early in June 2016, he had trebled the number of judges to increase efficiency, built confidence and secured the highest funding ever for the institution. He also ring-fenced decisional independence that would enable courts to act as a check on executive and legislative power.

After the Supreme Court upheld the 2013 presidential election, an internal corruption investigation in the Judiciary sucked the institution into a confrontation with the National Assembly, which petitioned the President to appoint a tribunal to investigate six members of the JSC. A five-judge High Court bench neutered the tribunal before it could sit and presented the first contest between Dr Mutunga and President Uhuru Kenyatta.

President Kenyatta would play possum with a list of 25 judge nominees presented to him by the JSC, first appointing 11 and then keeping the other 14 in abeyance for a year. An amendment to the law to require the JSC to send the President three names from which he could choose the Chief Justice was struck down on account of unconstitutionality.

When Dr Mutunga wanted to retire, the President declined to meet him, and the Speaker of the National Assembly refused to respond to his request to address Parliament. By the time interviews for Dr Mutunga’s replacement began in September 2016, the Executive was disoriented and unable to muscle its substantial vote strength in the JSC for a single candidate.

Although the presidency nominates two non-lawyers as members of the JSC in addition to the Attorney General and a nominee of the Public Service Commission, thus controlling 36 per cent of the vote, the Judiciary has five members – the Chief Justice as chair and one representative each for the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the magistrates – and has 45 per cent voice. The Law Society of Kenya’s two representatives – 18 per cent – provide an important swing vote for the Executive or the Judiciary whenever there is no consensus.

Justice Maraga of the Court of Appeal emerged as the dark horse in the three-month search for the Chief Justice on the strength of his electoral law jurisprudence. Earlier attempts to name Supreme Court judge Jackton Ojwang as acting Chief Justice were abandoned. Justice Ojwang trailed fellow Supreme Court judge Smokin Wanjala, Kenyan-American law professor Makau Mutua, and constitutional law expert Nzamba Kitonga.

When Dr Mutunga wanted to retire, the President declined to meet him, and the Speaker of the National Assembly refused to respond to his request to address Parliament.

The Supreme Court’s annulment of the presidential election in September 2017 produced voluble complaints from President Kenyatta, who threatened unspecified action against the Judiciary. The independence of the Judiciary, represented in the person of the Chief Justice, has clearly rankled President Kenyatta and his supporters. He subsequently began a systematic reorganisation of the Executive’s representatives to the JSC by picking a judiciary insider, Court of Appeal president, Kihara Kariuki, to replace Attorney General Githu Muigai. Even before the terms of public representatives Winnie Guchu and Kipng’etich Bett were midway, he recalled them and replaced them with Prof Olive Mugenda and Felix Koskey. And then he declined to gazette the re-election of Mohammed Warsame as Court of Appeal representative to the JSC. Judge Warsame was finally seated without re-taking oath courtesy of a court decision that obviated the need for his election to be gazetted. He joined the judiciary column led by the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, who had been elected to represent the Supreme Court, and Justice David Majanja, who represents the High Court.

Fears have been rife that the election of the magistrates’ representative to replace Chief Magistrate Emily Ominde in December and the replacement of LSK woman representative Mercy Deche could provide an opportunity for the Executive to support pliant candidates, in addition to Macharia Njeru.

It is likely that urgent attempts to start the Chief Justice’s recruitment could exclude the two representatives of the magistrates and the LSK, thus denying the panel two critical voices. Voting strength in the JSC could also be significantly altered if some of the commissioners apply for the Chief Justice’s position. For one, it is not clear if the 62-year-old Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, who already represents the Supreme Court in the JSC, will act as chairperson of the commission once Justice Maraga leaves.

Although voting is an important factor in choosing the next Chief Justice, qualification is probably more important. And the public scrutiny candidates are subjected to, complete with court oversight when required, means that a naked attempt to install a puppet would backfire.

Political horse-trading with Parliament is a necessity for nominees to the position of Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice to be confirmed during vetting. Often, politicians view the Chief Justice’s position as one of the spoils to be traded during ethno-regional deal-making. So far, the Chief Justice’s position has been occupied by a kaleidoscope of Kenyans – including many ethnic and religious colourations.

The law only provides for the Deputy Chief Justice to act as Chief Justice “[i]n the event of the removal, resignation or death” and only for a period not exceeding six months pending the appointment of a new one. It remains to be seen if legal experts will argue that retirement is not equivalent to removal, resignation or death. Should Justice Mwilu also throw her hat in the ring for the top job, she would not be able to cast a vote as a JSC member.

Another JSC member who has to weigh between voting and chasing the job is 66-year-old Justice Kihara Kariuki, believed to be a front-runner to succeed Chief Justice Evan Gicheru in 2011 but has bided his time, rising to President of the Court of Appeal before accepting to serve as Attorney General. Meanwhile, Justice Mwilu has been embroiled in petitions seeking her removal from office since the Supreme Court annulled the presidential election. Two years ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of Criminal Investigations launched a highly publicised effort to arrest and charge her with corruption before the High Court discharged her and advised that complaints against her be first have been processed through the JSC. Justice Mwilu has since tied the JSC in legal knots over the involvement of the Attorney General and one other member in hearing the complaint against her, claiming that they have shown bias.

Although the Constitution allows a Chief Justice to serve for a maximum of 10 years, the practice so far has been to choose individuals who are close to the retirement age, with the effect that those chosen preside over only presidential petitions from one election cycle before they reach the retirement age of 70. If appointments continue to be short-term to limit the pain individuals can inflict on the institution, candidates in their mid-60s appear to be chosen to navigate the 2022 election and leave before the 2027 one.

Although voting is an important factor in choosing the next Chief Justice, qualification is probably more important. And the public scrutiny candidates are subjected to, complete with court oversight when required, means that a naked attempt to install a puppet would backfire.

Although the Supreme Court’s Justice Smokin Wanjala gave a good showing at the 2016 interviews and was ranked second, his age – 60 – means that if appointed, he would hold the job for 10 years. Law scholar Makau Mutua, 62, who was ranked third in the 2016 interviews for Chief Justice, could also give the job another try, as would former Attorney General Githu Muigai, who would similarly be hampered by fears of serving out the 10 years in the post.

The Executive’s frustration with the Judiciary has been expressed as blame for the slow pace of corruption cases, where the courts are criticised for not pulling their weight to deliver quick convictions. The most evident sign of frustration has been the President’s refusal to appoint 41 individuals nominated by the JSC as Court of Appeal and High Court judges. The law does not permit the JSC to reconsider its nominees after the names have been submitted to the President, except in the case of death, incapacity or withdrawal of a nominee. Last week, judge designate Harrison Okeche died after a road traffic accident before he could be sworn in because the President has not published the names as expected. It remains to be seen how the JSC responds.

Chief Justices chair the Judicial Service Commission, and preside over the Supreme Court, which decides the presidential election petitions. Besides the very constrained and collegial power in these two sites, the Chief Justice also exercises administrative power in empanelling High Court benches for constitutional references, and posts judges – powers shared with the President of the Court of Appeal and the Presiding Judge of the High Court.

A Chief Justice cannot direct judicial officers – from the lowliest magistrate to the Supreme Court judge – on how to decide a matter. Much of the power she or he wields is moral and symbolic. The emotional energy invested in controlling the recruitment of the next Chief Justice could turn out to be a source of great frustration when administrative fiat and bench-fixing do not deliver the anticipated results for those seeking a puppet Chief Justice.

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African Continent a Milking Cow for Google and Facebook

‘Sandwich’ helps tech giants avoid tax in Africa via the Netherlands and Ireland.

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Algorithmic Colonisation of Africa
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Google’s office at the airport residential area in Accra, Ghana, sits inside a plain white and blue two-storey building that could do with a coat of paint. Google, which made more than US$ 160 billion in global revenue in 2019, of which an estimated US$ eighteen billion in ‘Africa and the Middle East’, pays no tax in Ghana, nor does it do so in most of the countries on the African continent.

Google Street View of the building registered as Google's office in Accra

Google Street View of the building registered as Google’s office in Accra

It is able to escape tax duties because of an old regulation that says that an individual or entity must have a ‘physical presence’ in the country in order to owe tax.  And Google’s Accra office clearly defines itself as ‘not a physical presence.’ When asked, a front desk employee at the building says it is perfectly alright for Google not to display its logo on the door outside. ‘It is our right to choose if we do that or not’. A visitor to the building, who said she was there for a different company, said she had no idea Google was based inside.

Facebook is even less visible. Even though practically all 250 million smartphone owners in Africa use Facebook, it only has an office in South Africa, making that country the only one on the continent where it pays tax.

Brick and mortar

The physical presence rule in African tax laws is ‘remnant of a situation before the digital economy, where a company could only act in a country if it had a “brick and mortar” building’, says an official of the Nigerian Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), who wants to remain anonymous. ‘Many countries did not foresee the digital economy and its ability to generate income without a physical presence. This is why tax laws didn’t cover them’.

Tax administrations globally have initiated changes to allow for the taxing of digital entities since at least 2017. African countries still lag behind, which is why the continent continues to provide lucrative gains for the tech giants. A 2018 PriceWaterhouseCoopers report noted that Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has seen an average of a thirty percent year-on-year growth in internet advertising in the last five years, and that the same sector in that country is projected, in 2020, to amount to US$ 125 million in the entertainment and media industry alone.

‘Their revenue comes from me’.

William Ansah, Ghana-based CEO of leading West African advertising company Origin 8, pays a significant amount of his budget to online services. He says he is aware that tax on his payments to Facebook and Google escapes his country through what is commonly referred to as ‘transfer pricing’ and feels bad about it. ‘These companies should pay tax here, in Ghana, because their revenue comes from me’, he says, showing us a receipt from Google Ireland for his payments. During this investigation we were also shown an advert receipt from a Nigerian Facebook ad that listed ‘Ireland’ as the destination of the payment.

Like Google, Facebook does not provide country-by-country reports of its revenue from Africa or even from the African continent as a whole, but the tech giant reported general revenue of US$ sixty billion as a whole from ‘Rest of the world’, which is the world minus the USA, Canada, Europe and Asia.

Facebook revenue by user geography

Facebook revenue by user geography

Irish Double

The specific transfer pricing construction Google and other tech giants such as Facebook use to channel income away from tax obligations is called an ‘Irish Double’ or ‘Dutch Sandwich’, since both countries are used in the scheme. In the construction, the income is declared in Ireland, then routed to the Netherlands, then transferred to Bermuda, where Google Ireland is officially located. Bermuda is a country with no corporation tax. According to documents filed at the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in December 2018, Google moved US$ 22,7 billion through a Dutch shell company to Bermuda in 2017.

Moustapha Cisse, Africa team lead at Google AI

Moustapha Cisse, Africa team lead at Google AI

An ongoing court case in Ghana — albeit on a different issue — recently highlighted attempts by Google to justify its tax-avoiding practices in that country. The case against Google Ghana and Google Inc, now called Google LLC in the USA, was started by lawyer George Agyemang Sarpong, who held that both entities were responsible for defamatory material against him that had been posted on the Ghana platform. Responding to the charge, Google Ghana contended in court documents that it was not the ‘owner of the search engine www.google.com.gh’; that it did not ‘operate or control the search engine’ and that ‘its business (was) different from Google Inc’.

Google Ghana is an ‘artificial intelligence research facility’.

Google Ghana describes itself in company papers as an ‘Artificial Intelligence research facility’. It says that its business is to ‘provide sales and operational support for services provided by other legal entities’, a construction whereby these other legal entities — in this case Google Inc — are responsible for any material on the platform. Google Ghana emphasised during the court case that Ghana’s advertising money was also correctly paid to Google Ireland Ltd, because this company is formally a part of Google Inc.

Rowland Kissi, law lecturer at the University of Professional Studies in Accra describes Google’s defence in the Sarpong court case as a ‘clever attempt’ by the business to shirk all ‘future liability of the platform’. Kissi is cautiously optimistic about the outcome, though: while the case is ongoing, the court has already asserted that ‘the distinction regarding who is responsible for material appearing on www.google.com.gh, is not so clear as to absolve the first defendant (Google Ghana) from blame before trial’. According to leading tax lawyer and expert Abdallah Ali-Nakyea, if the ‘government can establish that Google Ghana is an agent of Google Inc, the state could compel it to pay all relevant taxes including income taxes and withholding taxes’.

Cash-strapped countries

Like most countries, especially in Africa, Nigeria and Ghana have become more cash-strapped than usual as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. While lockdowns enforced by governments to stop the spread of the virus have caused sharp contractions of the economy worldwide, ‘much worse than during the 2008–09 financial crisis’, according to the International Monetary Fund, Africa has experienced unprecedented shrinking, with sectors such as aviation, tourism and hospitality hardest hit. (Ironically, in the same period, tech giants like Google and Facebook have emerged from the pandemic stronger, due to, among others, the new reality that people work from home.)

With much needed tax income still absent, many countries have become even more dependent on charitable handouts. Nigeria recently sent out a tweet to ask international tech personality and philanthropist, Elon Musk, for a donation of ventilators to help weather the COVID 19 pandemic: ‘Dear @elonmusk @Tesla, Federal Government of Nigeria needs support with 100-500 ventilators to assist with #Covid19 cases arising every day in Nigeria’, it said. After Nigerians on Twitter accused the government of historically not investing adequately in public health, pointing at neglect leading to a situation where a government ministry was now begging for help on social media, the tweet was deleted. A government spokesperson later commented that the tweet had been ‘unauthorised’.

Cost to public

The criticism that governments often mismanage their budgets and that much money is lost to corruption regularly features in public debates in many countries in Africa, including Nigeria. However, executive secretary Logan Wort of the African Tax Administration Forum ATAF has argued that this view should not be used to excuse tax avoidance. In a previous interview with ZAM Wort said that ‘African countries must develop their tax base. It is only in this way that we can become independent from handouts and resource exploitation. Then, if a government does not use the tax money in the way it should, it must be held accountable by the taxpayers. A tax paying people is a questioning people’.

‘A tax paying people is a questioning people’

Commenting on this investigation, Alex Ezenagu, Professor of Taxation and Commercial Law at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, adds that in matters of tax avoidance by ‘popular multinationals such as Facebook and Google, it is important to understand the cost to the public. If (large) businesses don’t pay tax, the burden is shifted to either small businesses or low income earners because the revenue deficit would have to be met one way or another’. For example, a Nigerian revenue gap may cause the government to increase other taxes, Ezenagu says, such as value added tax, which increased from five to seven and a half percent in Nigeria in January. ‘When multinationals don’t pay tax, you are taxed more as a person’.

Nigeria has recently begun to tighten its tax laws, thereby following in the footsteps of Europe, that last year made it more difficult for the digital multinationals to use the ‘Irish Double’ to escape tax in their countries. South Africa, too, in 2019 tailored changes to its tax laws in order to close remaining legal loopholes used by the tech giants. These ‘could raise (tax income) up to US$ 290 million a year’ more from companies like Google and Facebook, a South African finance source said. With US$ 290 million, Ghana’s could fund its flagship free senior high school education; Nigeria could fully fund the annual budget (2016/2017 figures) of Oyo, a state in the south west of the country.

Interior view of the Facebook office in Johannesburg, South Africa

Interior view of the Facebook office in Johannesburg, South Africa

Waiting for the Finance Minister

Nigeria’s new Finance Act, signed into law in January 2020, has expanded provisions to shift the country’s focus from physical presence to ‘significant economic presence’. The new law leaves the question whether a prospective taxpayer has a ‘significant economic presence’ in Nigeria to the determination of the Finance Minister, whose action with regard to the tech giants is awaited.

In Ghana, digital taxation discussions are slowly gaining momentum among policy makers. The Deputy Commissioner of that country’s Large Taxpayer Office, Edward Gyamerah, said in a June 2019 presentation that current rules ‘must be revised to cover the digital economy and deal with companies that don’t have traditional brick-and-mortar office presences’. However, a top government official at Ghana’s Ministry of Finance who was not authorised to speak publicly stated that, ‘from the taxation policy point of view, the government has not paid a lot attention to digital taxation’.

He blamed the ‘complexity of developing robust infrastructure to assess e-commerce activity in the country’ as a major reason for the government’s inaction on this, but hoped that a broad digital tax policy would still be announced in 2020.” Until the authorities get around to this, he said he believed that, ‘Google and Facebook will (continue to) pay close to nothing in Ghana’.

Comment

Google Nigeria did not respond to several requests for interviews; Google Ghana did not respond to a request for comment on this investigation. Neither entities responded to a list of questions, which included queries as to what of their activities in the two countries might be liable for tax, and whether they could publish country by country revenues generated in Africa. When reached by phone, Google Nigeria’s Head of Communications, Taiwo Kola Ogunlade, said that he couldn’t speak on the company’s taxation status. Facebook spokesperson Kezia Anim-Addo said in an email: ‘Facebook pays all taxes required by law in the countries in which we operate (where we have offices), and we will continue to comply with our obligations’.

Note: The figure of eighteen billion US$ as revenue for Google in ‘Africa and the Middle East’ over 2019 was arrived at as follows. Google’s EMEA figures for 2019 indicate US$ 40 billion revenue for ‘Africa, Europe and the Middle East’ all together. According to this German publication, Google’s revenue in Europe was 22 billion in 2019This leaves US$ eighteen billion for Africa and the Middle East.

This article was first published by our partner ZAM Magazine.

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