The British factor in Anglo-Leasing scam

The British government has been trying to arm twist and blackmail the Kenya Government to award the new-generation passports contract to De La Rue, a British firm, we can authoritatively report. The contract will soon be awarded after final scrutiny on short-listed bidders was conducted last week.

And in a curious coincidence, the British High Commissioner, Adam Wood, berated the Kenya government for not doing enough to resolve the Anglo-Leasing scandal on the same day that another Githongo tape was released raising speculation that the two occurrences could be part of a wider scheme to blackmail the government into giving the contract to De La Rue.

The contract for new security compliant passports was shelved after the Anglo Leasing bubble burst in April 2004. This came following disclosures that phantom companies in the name of Anglo-Leasing had been paid upfront to arrange Shs 2.7 billion financing for processing new-generation passports for the country.

It came out that the project cost had fraudulently been raised from Shs 800 million to Shs 2.7 billion. When the scandal erupted, "ghosts" wired to the Central Bank the Shs 90 million they had been advanced in upfront payment.

De La Rue prints the present generation of Kenyan passports which experts say are easy to duplicate, cumbersome to audit-trail and lack proper entitlement process. In some cases, computers at foreign immigration control points have been unable to read Kenyan passport owing to wrong placing of identification decipher zone in the local passbook.

The project has since been revived and will be awarded in a few weeks time. Tenders for the project were quietly invited in August last year. Documents in our possession indicate the 20 security firms, including De La Rue, submitted bids for the USD 10 million (Shs 700 million) tender. The deadline for bidding was October 31, last year.

On November 14, last year, tender evaluation on the project was secretly conducted at the Co-operative College in Karen area. At the evaluation, five companies were short-listed for the award of the tender. They included Thomas De La Rue, Canadian Bank Notes PLC of Canada, and a Germany company, G&O. Others were Global Enterprise Technologies of US and Israeli firm, Supercom.

On December 27, last year, the Principal Immigration Officer, J.K. Ndathi, wrote to both the short-listed bidders and the losers to update them on the progress. The losers were given 21 days to appeal.

Confidential information leaked to us indicates that the five short-listed bidders were subjected to further scrutiny last week using the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. Thomas De La Rue scored the least. ICAO is the body that standardizes and inspects international travel documentation.

Among the most compelling reasons for dropping De La Rue is that the firm intends to apply the same technology it has used to manufacture the present generation of passports which are considered below international standards.

Confidential sources at the Immigration Department disclose to us that on learning that De La Rue may not be getting the contract after all, the British High Commission began to apply underhand tactics to have the matter reviewed in favour of De La Rue.

Contacted, a spokesman at the British High Commission declined to comment, dismissing our query offhand in a single line that "the Embassy is not in the business of tendering for business in Kenya or lobbying for British companies."

The British security printing firm, situated on Thika Road, has been in trouble since the Kibaki administration came to power in 2003.

It began with refusal to renew a 10-year contract to print bank notes for Kenya which the firm had signed with the previous Kanu regime under questionable circumstances. The British government eventually arm-twisted the Kibaki government into renewing the contract even with its obvious flaws.

And last year, the government curiously tendered for half a million passport books from De La Rue even when it was clear that Kenya'a annual demand for passbooks is between 100,000 and 150,000 books. To make it worse, a huge chunk of the half a million books were jumbo-size yet most applicants go for the standard-sized passport. At the moment, all passport applicants are forced to take the jumbo-size, perhaps as a measure to deflate the present stock before the tender for new-generation passport is awarded.

Speaking at a forum in Nairobi on Tuesday, British High Commissioner Adam Wood revisited the Anglo-Leasing scandal and claimed that the Kenyan government has never showed enough seriousness in resolving the Anglo-Leasing scandal.

However, the High Commissioner did not say exactly what it is that the Kenyan government has failed to do as far as the matter is concerned.

But the most curious aspect of it all is the coincidence that the High Commissioner's remarks came on the very day former PS for Ethics and Governance John Githongo released his latest "expose" on Anglo-Leasing. This time round, Githongo posted a recording of a conversation with then Finance minister Daudi Mwiraria and Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi on his personal internet site.

In the tape, the duo allegedly prevailed on him to halt investigations on Anglo-Leasing.

Pundits were quick to see a possible collusion between Githongo and the British High Commission to revisit Anglo-leasing scandal piece-meal any time there is an issue to pick with the Kenya government.

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