ODM leader Raila Odinga receiving his Covid-19-free certificate from Prof. Matilu Mwau of the Testing Centre, at the Kenya Medical Research Institute on June 15, 2020.
ODM leader Raila Odinga receiving his Covid-19-free certificate from Prof. Matilu Mwau of the Testing Centre, at the Kenya Medical Research Institute on June 15, 2020/COURTESY/THE STAR
By Reporter

Raila Odinga’s ODM has found itself in unfamiliar territory and has gone into firefighting mode following allegations that it is part of a massive cover-up of the alleged looting of Covid-19 billions.

The party has been rocked by internal disquiet since Saturday after it released a statement that appeared to downplay apparent, widely reported theft. It accused the media of engaging in a “sensationalist extravaganza with half-baked information”.

That’s quite unlike the uncompromising corruption-fighter and his warriors of yesteryear.

The internal outrage and public criticism of the go-slow approach forced Raila to issue a fresh statement on Monday to calm the storm.

However, the new communiqué generated even more heat.

“The opposition has not only failed in its mandate but has taken to fertilising impunity and corruption,” rights activist Cyprian Nyamwamu told the Star.

“Since ODM joined Jubilee [with the 2018 handshake], the government has the boldness of tormenting the citizens… the deep state goons can go on and hurt anyone at any time, knowing that the political consequences are negligible.”

Allies of Deputy President William Ruto also appear to have been gifted a perfect opportunity to rubbish Raila’s reform, take-no-prisoners credentials.

Powerful political figures, including a vocal Jubilee politician, are among those who benefited from the Covid-19 cash.

“It is so strange there is no Jubilee leader in the National Assembly or Senate who has come out to defend the Kemsa Covid-19 heist, not even [secretary general Raphael] Tuju. Ironically ODM party leader and SG [Edwin Sifuna] are busy outdoing each other as to who can give the best defence to the looters,” Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said.

Raila has over the years built his political profile on uncompromising reforms, anti-corruption, anti-impunity, equality and clean governance.

The Star has established the statement issued by ODM secretary general Sifuna over the weekend was criticised by a number of party bigwigs who saw it as indirect support of the kind of impropriety the party had been fighting all along.

More confounding is the surprise about-turn by the former prime minister on how graft cases should be handled.

Like Sifuna, Raila said that investigating agencies should wait for a thorough audit of the Covid-19 funds before moving in.

“Our experience in this country is that the best way to bungle and cover up corruption investigations is to have many different voices each with its own version of truth. We saw that noise with regard to Arror and Kimwarer dams and the NYS scams, among others.

“It is with this background in mind that ODM wants a speedy professional audit that can lead to prosecution instead of a political shouting match that creates more confusion and ends up clouding the issues and even covering up for the thieves,” Raila stated.

He pledged, however, that ODM will not defend anyone including members, relatives and friends of its officials found to have benefited from funds acquired improperly. 

In the National Youth Service, Eurobond and earlier Afya House scandals, Raila ran sweeping, relentless anti-graft campaign demanding the affected officers step aside in advance to pave way for investigations.

This clamour forced Devolution CS Anne Waiguru to resign, citing ill health and doctor’s orders. She had also sued Raila for defamation.

On Monday, a record 25 lobby groups demanded President Uhuru Kenyatta urgently address the nation on the allegations of corruption and announce transparency and accountability measures he promises to undertake.

Senate Minority leader James Orengo was the first – within ODM – to punch holes into Sifuna’s statement, saying Kenyans are justified in expressing outrage over the theft of Covid-19 funds.

“I admire [South African President Cyril] Ramaphosa’s understanding of the anger against the people who may have pocketed funds to fight the pandemic,” he said referring to South Africa’s own corruption problems.

While reiterating that ODM will never tolerate corruption, no matter  who is involved, Raila said a systematic approach needs to be adopted to fight graft.

“As matters stand now, none of the people taking to the podium or social media to condemn theft of funds has any evidence. The so-called condemnations of theft could well be part of a cover-up,” he stated.

On Saturday, ODM’s Sifuna said the expose by the media of alleged theft at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority was “baseless” and “sensational”.

ODM further faulted the probe by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, saying it was “a wonder as there was no ‘audit’ by the Auditor General”.

Raila said a similar approach worked with regard to the National Youth Service scam where in 2016, the office of the Auditor General was able to establish that Kenyan taxpayers lost Sh1.9 billion.

National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee chair Opiyo Wandayi said ODM would never attempt to shield corrupt individuals.

Wandayi stated ODM has been known to fight corruption in all its forms and will remain committed to the cause.

“Our resolve to fight corruption has not changed and will not change anytime soon. We condemn corruption and we are available to offer any help to fight the menace,” he said.

Shinyalu MP Justus Kizito said ODM wants a systematic way of investigating the alleged theft, one that will result in convictions if crime was committed.

“There is no way you can say somebody has stolen before an audit is done. We are simply asking for impeccable evidence. We don’t want hearsay but reasonable evidence,” he stated.

Kizito further said an audit report would be critical to investigating agencies and  the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly.

“I sit on the PAC and the only way we can move forward is when we have a report of the Auditor General,” he added.

He continued: “We must call in the auditors to do their job first. That is when we will be able to say so and so has stolen but we cannot just wake up and start to point fingers.”

Kizito said Raila “could never subscribe to people who are stealing” public funds.

“Why should DP William Ruto attack Raila by calling him a lord of corruption over Kemsa? The DP has all the tools to get those who could have stolen money. Why can’t he order an audit? We have nothing, we are just the opposition,” he added.