Defence nominee Raychelle Omamo defends military spending secrecy

Acting Labor CS Raychelle Omamo. FILE PHOTO | HOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDAI GROUP  Nation Media Group

The unaccountable nature of military procurement is unlikely to change much under the stewardship of the proposed Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo who Thursday launched a defence of the secrecy.

Kenya’s security procurement has remained shrouded in secrecy, a fact that prompted MPs vetting the nominee to ask whether she would change that.

She was asked by the Committee on Appointments if she would ensure that all military procurements were subject to the country’s procurement laws. The committee brought together the warring Jubilee and Cord coalitions which have previous refused to sit together.

“Procurement procedures in defence are not the same as in other areas. I have the impression that they follow the right procedures. We know in the Constitution there are limitations in regard to information on the defence forces, although that will not prevent compliance with procurement laws as much as is possible,” said Ms Omamo.

She defended the conduct of military procurement processes saying that while there have been concern that corruption could be the reason behind the secrecy, there was need to understand the sensitivity of procuring security equipment.

“It may not be corruption per se or someone trying to bend the rules, but rather may be a lack of official training or lack of coordination in procurement processes,” she added.

She was answering questions from Cord members of the committee Leader of Minority Francis Nyenze and deputy Whip Jakoyo Midiwo.

The nominee said that from her initial interactions with the military since her nomination, she has not come across information on high incidence of single sourcing of military equipment or supplies.

Kenya is ranked among the countries with high defence budgets (and corruption) in Africa, having increased its military expenditure consistently in the past two decades to modernise its military hardware.

The country’s defence budget in the 2013/14 estimates is Sh60.44 billion, and is projected to rise to Sh63.56 billion in 2014/15 and Sh67.85 billion in 2015/16. Under the specific items in the breakdown of the budget estimates, the programmes to be undertaken are listed under one item, labelled ‘Maintaining and Safeguarding of National Security’.

Kenya has in the recent past been faced with threats from armed militias conducting cross-border raids in the north, as well as the threat from the Al Shabaab militia against whom KDF launched an operation in 2011.

The country procured attack aircraft, helicopters and armoured cars ahead of the Somalia incursion.

Kenya is also said to have procured and refurbished second hand F-5E combat aircraft from Jordan and new M-4 rifles from the USA, and also received one ex-French P-400 patrol aircraft at an undisclosed price.

The most infamous procurement is the Anglo Leasing ship, KNS Jasiri, procured at a cost of Sh4.6 billion through single sourcing. The naval vessel arrived in Mombasa last August after years of disputes about it dubious procurement.

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There were several damning reports on the deal prepared by the Controller and Auditor General (April 2006), the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (March 2006) and the Ministry of Justice (September 2006).

The vetting sessions were chaired by the Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi.

There had been reports that the Cord MP members of the committee might boycott the sittings, but they all attended. (See Video)

“We couldn’t have left it for Jubilee to come and just rubberstamp the appointments, since these are their nominees. It was our mandate to come in and keep the government in check as is our role in the opposition,” Cord parliamentary whip Chrisantus Wamalwa, the Kiminini MP said.

In response to a question on the cost and exit strategy of the Somali operation now under the umbrella of Amisom Ms Omamo steered clear of specifics saying she would need detailed briefing from the Chief of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) General Julius Karangi.

Article 289 (2) of KDF Act provides that the defence forces shall submit the annual accounts report to the President and MPs within three months after the end of the financial year.

The operations of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) are also subjected to parliamentary oversight under the law.

MPs now have the power to check the budgetary spending of the NIS and vet its next director-general. Parliament is also empowered to examine spending by the KDF.

The members of the relevant parliamentary committee are however required to subscribe to an oath of office where they will not be allowed to disclose sensitive information presented to it by defence forces officers to the public.