JKIA Fire Exposes Government Inefficiency and Corruption
The huge fire that gutted the international arrivals and immigration area of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) on August 7, 2013 exposed the underbelly of the Kenyan Government that is infamous for its inefficiency and grand corruption. It took six hours for firefighters drawn from the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), the military and other private companies to put it out. It was a shame to see photos of soldiers carrying buckets of water to douse the raging fire. In addition, it took more than half an hour for the first fire engine to begin working, yet international standards require three minutes of response at airports. Two days earlier, an airlock in the central pipeline which delivers jet fuel to the airport malfunctioned, causing planes arriving there to be diverted to other airports. Observers saw firefighters struggling with hoses they could not operate and to worsen the situation, water hydrants at the airport were out of function. The inefficiency exhibited in the firefighting process shocked many Kenyans who said: “Sijivunii kuwa Mkenya” (I am not proud to be a Kenyan).
Hundreds of stranded passengers watched as their pieces of luggage burnt to ashes during the emergency evacuation. Thank God nobody was injured and that it was not about a plane that had caught fire. Media outlets such as the Kenya Television Network (KTN) and Nation Television (NTV) deserve accolades for their live streaming which updated those in the Diaspora. During KTN’s Sunrise Live program, Mwingi North MP John Munuve who was interviewed at JKIA, mentioned that he had questioned in Parliament the day before, how 350 hired goons were allowed into the duty free area of the airport. They had been ferried to demolish shops owned by Paul Kamlesh Pattni (of the Goldenberg scandal) at midnight last week. He wondered who had authorized them, yet the airport is Government’s property with high security.
It is speculated that the raiders might have tampered with electric cables that caused a short circuit and eventually the devastating fire. Over 600 people lost their livelihoods when the duty free shops were demolished following a court order disallowing Pattni to renew his lease. Since 1991, Pattni’s World Duty Free Company has held exclusive rights to shops in all airports built by KAA. An online blog claimed that during an NTV interview last Sunday, Pattni “warned Uhuru/Ruto that they had abused their powers by oppressing innocent people who were just earning a decent living from the duty free shops, and that God will remove them from power very soon.”
Incidentally, August 7th was also the 15th anniversary of the 1998 terrorist twin bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The USA has sent FBI agents to assist the Kenyan government in its investigations. But even more bizarre is the allegation that CCTV cameras in the building were out of order during the fire.
For a country known for its lawlessness, the security personnel who arrived to assist had a field day looting money from banks and ATMs located inside the arrivals section at the JKIA. The dailymail.co.uk reported that: “First responders who arrived at massive airport fire in Kenya looted electronics, a bank and an ATM, it has been claimed. Officials investigating the fire at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport told the Associated Press valuables were stolen by emergency services including police, firefighters and the army. Anonymous sources have alleged that first responders stole electronics and money from an ATM. It is also believed that police guarding the site overnight attempted to a take a safe from a bank in the burned-out arrivals hall, which also houses several foreign currency exchange shops.
All public servants in Kenya, including police, firefighters and soldiers, are poorly paid and frequently accused of corruption. Police officers who guard the entrance to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport are well known in Nairobi for demanding bribes from taxi drivers and other vehicles with Kenyan drivers. The fire-fighting response to Wednesday’s inferno was criticized as slow and inadequate, but the officials could not definitely say the looting was carried out by firefighters. One official said there was now behind-the-scenes finger pointing taking place between the police, fire department and army. Another official said specialized police units had attempted to steal the safe overnight.” However, the Inspector General of Police said they had not received official complaints from owners who had suffered losses from the fire.
Corruption at KAA
During former president Kibaki’s 10 year rule, KAA was a key cash cow for his Mt. Kenya Kikuyu elite. In March 2003, he appointed a close associate George Muhoho as its Managing Director (MD); a post he served for two terms ending in 2009, but was controversially awarded another year’s contract and quit early 2010. Muhoho is the brother of Mama Ngina, Uhuru Kenyatta’s mother. He was replaced as MD by another Kikuyu, Stephen Gichuki. On June 9, 2010 The Hansard (National Assembly Official Report) reported a high concentration of Mt. Kenya members within the senior management of KAA, and the underhand recruitment of Gichuki, seen to have been influenced by Muhoho.
Part of a paragraph on page six by former MP Langat reads: “Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, as I conclude, I also want to challenge the Government which talks about the issue of balancing communities in our parastatals. The Minister should re-look at the composition of the Board of KAA, because it comprises eight or ten members from a specific community. We need to balance it because Kenya is a big country with 42 communities which need to be given a fair chance both at the Board and management level of the KAA. Also, the senior management positions at the KAA should be checked, because it reflects the structure of the Board. If we are serious about National Cohesion and Integration, then it has to be seen at the KAA.”
During his tenure, Muhoho flaunted set rules in tendering processes for renovations at airports in Kenya and more specifically, at the JKIA. Here are some of his dealings posted at jukwaa.proboards.com on December 2, 2010: “It is worth noting that KAA is currently undertaking massive airport expansion projects at JKIA ( a project initially projected to cost Sh800 million, but whose cost has kept varying upwards, currently projected to cost Sh10 Billion). The Kisumu International Airport is undertaking a Sh3 Billion project whose final cost is yet to be estimated; and another multi-billion project at Malindi Airport.
Most of these projects are being undertaken by Chinese contractors, well known for secretive palm-greasing of African Big Men who facilitate contracts to them. It is partly in these multi-billion, multi-cost-varying infrastructure expansion projects that scrutiny on Amos Kimunya (Transport minister) will be highly called for. What is strikingly curious is that these airport expansions and so called ‘modernization’ projects keep undergoing metamorphosis from their original plans and designs. Variations and requests for additional funding (billed to taxpayers) are the order of the day. Besides the originally planned and budgeted phases (I-IV), KAA keeps seeking additional funding from foreign banks under very flimsy and strange justifications.
In one such request, KAA sought an additional grant of a whopping Sh7.5 Billion from the European Investment Bank to “help minimize disruptions at JKIA during repairs of passenger terminals”. No sooner was that approved, than Kenyan taxpayers were burdened with another equal amount (Sh7.5 Billion) in debt from the French Development Agency (AFD), this time for “minimizing disruptions” at the same JKIA “during repairs of taxiways”. These costly games executed by KAA foot-soldiers, are craftily designed through collusion between the Transport and Finance Ministers and PSs. In short, the Ministry of Transport has effectively facilitated the entry of Anglo-Leasing type contracts through KAA into our airport construction efforts.”
The looting of KAA by Mt. Kenya cartels still continues at the expense of taxpayers, with only a periodic change of faces. Meanwhile, buying and maintaining its own fire engines is not a priority, yet the JKIA facilitates tourism and horticultural business, which are Kenya’s top income earners. According to the Huffington Post: “Nairobi County doesn’t have a single working fire engine, the Daily Nation, a Nairobi newspaper, reported last month. One engine, the paper said, was auctioned in 2009 because the county hadn’t paid a $100 repair bill. An Associated Press reporter at the airport saw uniformed officers line up with buckets in hand, apparently to battle the blaze.”
In conclusion, former KNCHR commissioner Hassan Omar Hassan wrote in the Standard newspaper on November 27, 2011 that: “You scar and bleed a nation when you willfully negate its sensitivities. To pass the microphone from one Njoroge to another, then to Nyoike and Murungi while addressing the soaring costs of energy. Or when Ndung’u passes the microphone to Kinyua then to Kenyatta to tell us why the shilling is losing ground. Or when the leadership of the country’s security apparatus is almost exclusively from Kibaki’s ethnic Kikuyu. You then wonder why there’s ethnicity in Kenya when the Government is working “tirelessly” to patch your roads and build you new ones with flyovers.”