Despite sustained pressure from the government, Auditor-General Edward Ouko, has a reputation for being meticulous in scrutinising the spending of public funds.
But one area the Auditor appears not to have touched since 2014 — at least according to publicly available records — is the multi-billion-shillings Chinese-funded Standard Gauge Railway project. The single largest infrastructure project has had most of its financial details kept secret.
By size, the SGR is bigger than the Eurobond and its implementation has almost a lifetime impact on Kenya’s economy.
When Sunday Nation tried to seek response from the office of the Auditor General over the SGR audit, if any, we were met with silence.
“Well received,” came a reply from the office’s head of Public Relations and Communications Dr Wilfred Marube after he asked us to send our questions on e-mail.However, he did not respond to any follow ups on the questions.
Insiders intimated the subject “is too hot” and could raise more questions about the viability of the mega project that is now in its second phase after the Mombasa-Nairobi line was launched in May 2017.
There is no excuse, however, for the Auditor General to turn his eyes away from the project since its office is fully backed by law.
First, the Public Audit Act empowers the Auditor General to conduct investigations ‘on his or her own initiative, or on the basis of a complaint made by a third party’. This would mean Mr Ouko does not need any invitation to audit the SGR.
Under Section 10 of the Act, Mr Ouko is free to work independently, without being subject to direction or control by ‘any person or authority’ in carrying out his functions under the Constitution. It will therefore be illegal for anyone to have directed the eyes of Mr Ouko to other projects and away from the SGR. The law even prescribes a heavy penalty for anyone found doing that including a fine not exceeding Sh2 million or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.
“The Auditor-General and his or her staff shall perform their functions impartially, without fear, favour or prejudice and shall exercise their powers independently subject to the provisions of the Article 249 (2) of the Constitution, the provision of this Act and any other written law,” reads the law.
Under Section 32, audit reports are supposed to be submitted to Parliament and the relevant county assembly and within seven days of receiving the report, Parliament is supposed to publicise it on its official website and other public spaces. The Auditor General may even decide to use the media under Section 52 of the Act.
There is the possibility Mr Ouko may retire this year without talking about how the SGR billions were spent and if the project is viable.
From governors to heads of parastatals, many accounting officers have felt the pinch of having the hawk-eyed auditor whose work has divided opinion.
For example, he publicly doubted how Kenya had spent its first Eurobond, a Sh280 billion fund, that put him at loggerheads with the Jubilee administration.
He was particularly under fire for pursuing the proceeds of the bond to banks in New York seeking answers. He was almost hounded out of office but survived.
Mr Ouko has audited the military, the Intergraded Finance Management System, the police and even the National Intelligence Service. He has unearthed scandals and many have lived with hope that an audit is their last hope for a spotlight into the dark alleys of corrupt government transactions.
But where is the SGR audit?
*This report was first published in Kenyan Daily Nation newspapers