Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji has struck a blow for the media after ordering investigations into why the government has failed to pay an outstanding Ksh 2.5 billion debt owed to various broadcasters and publishers.
Haji issued the directive after the Daily Nation wrote an article detailing how the media industry is suffering after the Jubilee administration centralised advertisements under one entity, the Government Advertising Agency (GAA), which procures services on behalf of ministries, departments and agencies, but fails to pay for the same.
The newspaper followed the story published on Tuesday with an editorial that called for the punishment of officers who fail to pay suppliers, saying their conduct was denting the government’s image.
The editorial added: “We appeal to the Director of Public Prosecutions to require the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to investigate the failure by the National Treasury to prudently provide resources for the settlement of genuine government debt to Kenyans who have supplied goods and services worth tens of billions of shillings to it and whose lives have now been destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed by this callous disregard for contracts.”
Following the appeal, Mr Haji on Wednesday directed Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet to conduct speedy and thorough investigations into the matter and to update him about the progress after every 21 days.
“The editorial questions the conduct of the accounting officer(s) at the ministry of Information, Communications and Technology and the Government Advertising Agency for the chaotic manner in which they have procured services from the media, the failure to honour contracts and the piling up of a debt of Sh2.5 billion.
There are claims that GAA diverted some of the funds to another government agency that was heavily involved in last year’s presidential campaigns
The editorial further alleges that the accounting officers have violated the provisions of the Public Finance Management Act that require efficient, effective, economical and transparent use of resources,” he said in his letter to Boinnet.
“In light of the issues raised in the aforementioned editorial and in the public interest… you are hereby directed to cause speedy and thorough investigations into the issues raised therein,” the letter added.
The DPP’s order is set to turn the spotlight on former ICT Permanent Secretary Sammy Itemere and Denis Chebitwey, who as Director of Public Communications was in charge of the GAA when much of the debt was accumulated. Chebitwey was pushed out by ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru in early 2016 and relocated from Teleposta Towers, the ministry head office, to Post Bank House across Kenyatta Avenue, as the new CS, who was appointed in a November 2015 reshuffle, sought to streamline operations.
However, as per government practice, the burden would be on the current officer holders, Broadcasting and Communications PS Fatuma Hersi and GAA director Ngari Gituku, to explain why the debt is still outstanding. Hersi is in charge of both the GAA and coordination of national government advertising services.
In the Daily Nation story, Gituku said he was willing to start paying as soon as he gets Ksh 400 million which is still pending at the National Treasury.
Reallocation of funds
Though the arrangement was meant to streamline government media buying and cut costs, it appears to have come a cropper with some entities being accused of placing advertisements but then failing to remit money to the GAA.
The Daily Nation also claims that the GAA diverted some of the funds meant for the media to another government agency that was heavily involved in last year’s presidential campaigns on the understanding that the National Treasury will reallocate the same but this is yet to happen.
In addition, the newspaper said it is aware of and is investigating reports that some officials at GAA formed NYS-style dummy companies to loot the agency.
Standard Group is claiming Ksh 931 million from the government, Nation Media Group is asking for Ksh 835 million, while Mediamax Network Ltd is yet to recover Ksh 462 million from the financial year ended June 2018. Royal Media Services and Radio Africa Group/The Star newspaper are demanding Ksh 60 million and Ksh 423 million respectively.