An elegant official residence lies neglected and unrepaired yet government is paying $13 000 (about K10 million) monthly to house its High Commissioner to Kenya, a development a parliamentary committee has queried.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation confirmed to Nation on Sunday that Malawi High Commissioner to Kenya, Agrinna Mussa, vacated the official residence government bought 20 years ago, citing security concerns and the need to have the house rehabilitated.
For two years, Mussa has been housed at Panari (Hotel) luxurious apartment, which is fully furnished and serviced, and is located in Westland in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
When Nation on Sunday tried to ensure the cost of the apartments at Panari Residence, a receptionist at the hotel said the highest were priced at about $400 (about K300 000) a day, which translates to about $13 000 a month.
“Yes, the Malawi ambassador stays here [Panari Hotel]. She has her own apartment which has been renting for the past two years,” said the receptionist at the Hotel .
While the ministry craves for more funding for renovation of the residence and others in some mission, the Auditor General’s report of 2013 indicates that resources for the rehabilitation of the Nairobi residence were made available in 2012 but were abused.
Parliamentary Committee on International Relations chairperson Alex Major, who made a presentation in Parliament on the same issue on June 5 2018, also said in an interview the committee was concerned that Malawi was paying $13 000, describing the rentals as being on the high side.
He then also pleaded with Parliament to provide funds for rehabilitation of the residence to cut down on costs.
“Mr. Second Deputy Speaker, Sir, on the rehabilitation of our properties, I will give our situation in Kenya. We have a building which is not fenced and our High Commissioner lives in a rented house for which Malawi is paying a lot of money. It is the wish of the cluster that we think of rehabilitating the building so that our High Commissioner can move into it for us to save some money,” reads Major’s presentation as captured in the Hansard of June 5 2018.
A cluster meeting report from the committee responsible for International Relations presented in Parliament during the last Budget Session, also appealed for funding towards the renovation of the Nairobi residence as it bemoaned the high rentals.
“We need to construct the fences in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town. We also need to rehabilitate the official residence in Nairobi, including the security fence. Our High Commissioner is now renting a house at $13 000 per month, which is very expensive,” reads the report in part.
Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Relations Isaac Munlo said the ambassador’s residence in Nairobi was abandoned due to lack of maintenance, something that led to a security scare.
“We got a report from the ambassador that there was a break-in at the residence, so she moved out. The building needs serious maintenance, which includes the fence. This is why we asked for funds in the current national budget to renovate the structure,” he said.
Asked to justify the expenditure on rentals, in an e-mail response, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations spokesperson Rejoice Shumba disputed the quoted figure of $13 000, saying it was $6 000, which translates to about K4.5 million.
Surprisingly, the ministry is disputing the same figure it presented to the cluster committee of Parliament as it lobbied for inclusion of funds in the 2018/19 National Budget for purposes of renovating the embassy building.
On why government is renting an apartment when it owns a house, Shumba said the house also needs renovations.
“The residence has problems with the water system and security fence. It is currently under renovation and will be completed when funding is released. It was acquired in 1990 as an unfinished and/ or existing structure and later redesigned and modified to fit the requirements of the Malawi Government,” she said.
Our online search findings based and a snap check with some real estate agents indicate that most high class houses for foreign diplomats in poshy areas such as Runda Street and Lavington range between $3 000 and $5 000. This makes the Malawi house, standing at $13 000, one of the most expensive in the city.
Nation on Sunday has established that between 2012 and 2014, after the mission in Nairobi was reopened, Malawi rented a house at $5 000 in another uptown area of Lavington.
“The house was really nice and admirable within the neighborhood. Time may have passed, but I do not think even that house would cost $13 000. I know most houses for ambassadors in either Runda Street, which is a new uptown area, or Lavington would cost around $4 000 to $7 000. But for Malawi I would say the amount in question does not make sense,” said a source familiar with the issue.
Millions siphoned in maintenance works
The Auditor General’s report of 2013 indicates that government provided funding for renovations in 2012, but it was abused.
Our findings show that following the presidential directive to reopen the mission in December 2012, government engaged lawyers Kairu Mbuthia and Kiingati Advocates to facilitate completion of the rehabilitation works to the two properties—the chancery and the residence—both of which were in bad shape.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation made advance payments totalling $178 540.00 to the appointed lawyers, according to the Auditor General’s report.
“Although a total of $178 540.00 [about K129 million] had been disbursed to Kairu Mbuthia and Kiingati Advocates for purposes of repairs and rehabilitation of the residence and the chancery, no payment had been made to the contractor as at the date of the audit,” reads the report.
In June 2013, according to the report, government made another payment to Kairu Mbuthia and Kiingati Advocates for rehabilitation works to a tune of $7 472.79 (K5.4 million). But, according to the report, in both cases, the renovation works remained substandard.
The Auditor General’s report raised a red flag on how the Kenyan lawyers were identified to manage the property and also how rehabilitation works were handled.
It, categorically, puts the blame on Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations.
“It was also observed that there were no proper mechanisms put in place by the ministry to monitor the progress on the repairs and rehabilitation works both at the official residence and the chancery,” the report reads in part.
Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament last year, Munlo acknowledged the abuse of funds at the Nairobi mission, saying they had engaged the office of the Attorney General (AG), which was seeking refund from Messrs Kairu Mbuthia and Kiingati Advocates for breach of contract.
The office of the AG is on record as saying it commenced a legal suit against the Kenyan lawyers, seeking a refund of up to K360 million.
On the other hand, PAC chairperson Alekeni Menyani said funds permitting, they will still conduct an inquiry on the matter.
“We are still lobbying for funding on the matter so that we can conduct the said inquiry,” said Menyani in response to our questionnaire.