Could hotel scandal threaten Kenya’s government?
Kenya’s parliament and critics are calling loudly for Finance Minister Amos Kimunya to be fired for his role in the secretive government sale of a luxury hotel under murky circumstances. Pressure is mounting for Kimunya to resign or for his political patron, President Mwai Kibaki, to fire him over the sale of the Grand Regency hotel to a company that includes Libyan investors and at least one senior Kenya Central Bank employee.
The matter has tested the government set up in a power-sharing deal to end a bloody post election crisis
Kimunya denies wrongdoing and says the price offered was too good to resist. Political opponents and others have said that the value was drastically low, but straight answers about who bought it, how the deal came about and who is benefiting have not been forthcoming or given when asked for by the public or the press.
It hasn’t helped Kimunya’s situation that the Grand Regency first came to public scorn in the early 1990s when the man at the heart of the country’s longest running corruption scandal bought it with what the government says was stolen Central Bank money. That scandal, the Goldenberg affair, nearly brought the country’s economy to its knees and became the symbol for most in the east African nation of the impunity with which politicians and a small politically connected elite can steal public assets.
Adding to Kenyan frustration is the fact that many of the players from that era are still active in politics or remain in the small club of the connected. For example, the lawyer who handled the sale of the Grand Regency in 1994 to accused Goldenberg architect Kamlesh Pattni is now a government minister and is on the commission investigating the new case. Also on that commission is Justice Aaron Ringera, who earns 2.5 million Kenya shillings ($37,820) per month in his job as the head of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission — and Kimunya was on the panel that awarded Ringera that job.
So with so many close connections among the relatively small political elite, so much official obfuscation and a poisonous political atmosphere, will Kenya’s taxpayers ever get a straight answer on how the deal came about or how they will benefit? Will — or should — anyone be punished for what is shaping up to be the latest Kenyan corruption scandal?
And what could it mean for the coalition?