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Economy

Wasanga named in Sh0.7m annual kickback scheme

Paul Wasanga, former chief executive of the Kenya National Examinations Council. PHOTO | FILE
Paul Wasanga, former chief executive of the Kenya National Examinations Council. PHOTO | FILE 

During his decade-long tenure as chief executive of the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), Paul Wasanga headed an institution charged with the administration of credible public examinations.

That mandate was over the years executed with mixed results as cases of cheating emerged and persisted in a number of schools.

For the most part, the exams body appeared to have been committed to curbing the practice.

But it has now emerged from documents filed in a London court that behind the veil of a well-run and steady organisation, the Knec was in total drift when it came to meeting its fiduciary obligations.

The documents depict Mr Wasanga as having run a well-oiled corruption machinery that regularly colluded to award multi-million-shilling contracts to UK printing firm Smith & Ouzman (S&O) through opaque and non-competitive processes.

The London prosecutors say Mr Wasanga received £5,000 (Sh705,000) per year from S&O chairman Christopher Smith, an amount the former Knec boss would collect in cash during lavish annual trips to the UK.

The number of years during which the bribes were paid is not clear from the documents but Mr Smith told his son Nick in an email that he had made the payments regularly save for one year.

The Knec’s deputy CEO Mwai Nyaga, Geoffrey Gitogo (ICT manager), Ephraim Wanderi (computer manager) and Michael Ndua (principal supplies officer) were reportedly paid $1,000 (Sh90,000) each in Kenya by S&O’s agent Trevy James Oyombra.

For these payments and other benefits — including chauffeur-driven cars and gifts for their children — the officials helped the UK firm win multiple contracts to supply examination materials.

S&O was paid a total of £287,176 (Sh40.4 million) for supplying the Knec with optical mark reader (OMR) forms, examination certificates, photo collection forms, and OMR mark sheets in 2009 and 2010 alone, according to the court documents.

Mr Oyombra received $5,000 (Sh450,000) for helping S&O to establish and use the bribery scheme, according to court filings at the Southwark Crown Court that details the conspiracy.

Out of the five Knec managers, Mr Wasanga and Mr Wanderi are singled out as having had a longstanding relationship with S&O.

In an interview with investigators, Mr Smith said that Mr Wasanga had been frequenting London at the expense of S&O which wanted help in winning Knec contracts.

Mr Wasanga, for instance, visited S&O’s premises in Eastbourne on July 15, 2010, causing Mr Smith and his son Nicholas to plan for the visit upfront.

The junior Smith asked his father whether they needed “to provide subsistence? How much is usual?” and whether his father had organised for a car to chauffeur Mr Wasanga during his trip.

The elder Smith replied: “I have always given £5,000 which will be fine, he missed a year.”

Court papers show that Mr Wasanga reportedly received the amount besides a chauffeur-driven car during his week-long stay in London where he stayed at the high-end Edwardian Hotel in Oxford Street.

Minutes of the meeting Mr Wasanga had with the S&O executives indicate that they discussed extending one of the contracts without further tendering.

The elder Smith told investigators that the £5,000 paid to Mr Wasanga was not a bribe.

“It was a high amount because he was one of the most important people that S&O dealt with,” he told the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) sleuths.

“Wasanga expected a chauffeur-driven car and this was provided in addition to the £5,000. You had to keep them sweet to maintain the relationship.”

S&O had a steady flow of contracts from the Knec through 2008 but its executives took a view that they had lost business to competitors. They set about getting the business back the following year, activating the contacts they had cultivated over the years.

In June 2009, for instance, Nicholas visited Kenya where he met Mr Wanderi to discuss specifications for the supply of certificates and OMR forms, according to the court documents.

He also met Mr Wasanga and Mr Ndua, and concluded his visit with the assurance that he looked forward to receiving the tender documents.

“… Sincerely hope that this year we can win this work back and continue our relationship with Knec,” he wrote in a follow-up email to Mr Wanderi on June 15, 2009.

Mr Wanderi was expected to help the UK firm based on the 30-year close relationship he had with Christopher Smith.

Court documents also show that the S&O chairman in 2009 gave Mr Wanderi an HP laptop computer. Mr Wanderi’s son also received a Samsung notebook and a Playstation 3 games console and games the same year.

Christopher later told SFO investigators that he gave the gifts based on a longstanding friendship with Mr Wanderi.

“There is nothing wrong in giving gifts to a friend. It was, however, no coincidence that the gifts to Wanderi’s son were made at the time S&O were on a drive to get back the business with Knec which they had lost,” the prosecutor argues.

Nicholas in July 2009 emailed his father saying Mr Wasanga was keen on S&O winning back the contract and offered comfort that they would get.

“Wasanga is playing ball and certainly wants us to win this back... I’ve reiterated that we will make inclusion for the Min. [a reference to the Education minister].”

S&O was awarded two contracts for the supply of the certificates and OMR forms between September and October 2009, an outcome that prompted Nicholas to instruct Mr Oyombra to pay the Knec managers in gratitude.

The UK firm won more contracts from the Knec the following year.

Besides the $1,000 paid to him by the agent, Mr Wanderi is also said to have received £200 (Sh28,200) on May 21, 2010 from Christopher through Western Union.

The S&O chairman said in an interview that the money was to pay hospital fees for Mr Wanderi’s father. The printer would pay the Knec officials after it had received payments for materials supplied.

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