Mara Heist three months later: Business as usual?

Mara Heist three months later: Business as usual?

On September 1 this year, Citizen TV aired one of the most explosive corruption exposés in Kenya: the Mara Heist.

It illustrated dark secrets of official corruption at the Maasai Mara University in Narok.

However, three months after the story aired, no suspect has been arrested or charged with any crime.

A team from Citizen TV revisited the Mara Heist in search of answers: has anything changed since the damning report?

Has the heist come a halt or is it business as usual?

The team returned to Narok on Monday and of particular interest were two people:  the acting VC Prof. Kitche Magak and the chairperson of the university council Dr. Samuel Ochola.

After a 1 hour 15 minute wait, the university administration joined the Citizen TV team in the boardroom.

Despite having requested for a one-on-one interview, they had chosen to invite other local journalists to the session.

This was an unusual development since it was a follow-up to an exclusive report.

“I have to say that this interview was organized by Mr. Mwaura and I thought I would like to open it up for everyone because a story is best when it is shared with everyone,” Prof Magak started.

With him was Mr. Anaclet Biket Okumu, the Finance Officer and one of the personas of interest in the Mara Heist scandal.

“What was happening previously is that we would withdraw cash to pay staff in terms of imprests and expense claims. As long as they were under Ksh.1million we would do the cheque, withdraw the cash and then the cashier pays off,” said Okumu

“We realized that this has a lot of inherent risks that we wanted to move from. Some of the risks include theft, security reasons and also the effectiveness of that exercise it exposes the cashier and tempts the person handling the cash because as you know cash is a fairly sensitive item. We have minimized cash handling. The maximum withdrawal currently is now Ksh.100,000 and such withdrawal requires express approval from the VC and any person that requires that, does the request to the VC,” he added.

“Why were all these financial steps not happening earlier? Why were you doing payments of Ksh.999,999 for example without accompanying documentation? You are a CPA and educated to a high-level. Were you not concerned?” Waihiga Mwaura posed.

“True I was concerned but the only thing that I can clarify here is that the payments that we have been making within the university are supported. They are supported. Even before September 1, 2019. There is specific standard operating procedures that we follow. Before that happens,” replied Okumu.

“You say that you were concerned. Did you raise it with anyone? With the council?” Waihiga posed.

“The issue of the so-called Mara Heist in fact the word is pronounced heist. The issues of Mara Heist are under investigation so let me ask my colleagues that this is an area that we cannot give substantive answers to. That is a question that we cannot respond to. What we are trying to deal with is what has happened since I came into this office,” Prof. Magak said.

The university had no clear answers but the team wanted to know more about the council’s activities and the actions taken in the university since the story aired.

The slow pace of investigations at the university council was astonishing.

The council is the highest decision making organ at any such institution and one of its key functions is to approve the university’s budget and mobilise resources.

So how could it be so slow in the getting to the bottom of what was clearly a spending spree outside the approved budget?

But how far has the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) gone since asking the key players to record statements?  And what about the Ministry of Education?

In a letter to the Ministry of Education, the DCI confirmed that they had recommended the prosecution of Prof. Mary Walingo and eight others.

According to the DCI, the file was been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for further directions.

The DCI also directed that Prof. Mohamed Abdille (DVC Administration Finance and Planning) not be suspended as per a council directive because he was a key witness in the case.

“Yes, I already received that letter and having talked to the DCI, I instructed the chair of council to reinstate that professor. What happened after that, I do not know,” said Education CS George Magoha.

So far, the DPP is yet to prosecute any of the suspects while at the university, a state of uncertainty looms.

“Yes, it is true that DVC Prof. Abdille has been suspended by the council and unfortunately that matter is already in court and we cannot discuss matters in court but if you really want to know the reason for his suspension. You can get from his letter of suspension,” said Prof. Magak.

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