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Sh500m City Hall legal fee raises Integrity’s curiosity

By Nancy Gitonga
Sunday, January 24th, 2021
City Hall, the seat of the Nairobi County Government. Photo/PD/FILE
In summary
    • According to the report, the department spent Sh645.3 million on legal costs against an approved budget of Sh105 million.
    • Out of this, Sh314.4 million was paid to 12 firms. The payment was not included in Ifmis.
    • In February 2019, the Assembly’s PAC team found the legal department spent Sh480 million, more than four times the Sh100 million budgeted for.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is investigating possible collusion between several leading law firms and Nairobi MCAs to swindle the county government of close to Sh500 million in legal fees for services not rendered.

On the radar of the EACC are at least eight prominent MCAs who allegedly fronted the 25 law firms.

According to the payment schedule seen by People Daily, the millions were to be wired to the law firms last Friday only for EACC to write to the County Secretary notifying him it had opened investigations into the matter.

“The commission (EACC) is undertaking investigations at Nairobi City County in respect of payments of legal fees to the following firms. To facilitate our investigation, kindly but urgently furnish us with the following original documents in respect to the above firms,” the letter dated January 21 reads.

The documents include all payment vouchers and cheque counterfoil, list of prequalified law firms for the years 2013-2020 and minutes approving the list of pre-qualified law firms.

EACC also demanded to be furnished with original copies of the specific case files handled by the law firms including details of the cases, letters of instructions and contract agreement for the period under investigations.  

Nothing but politics

Some of the law firms being investigated include Irungu Kang’ata & Co. Advocates, which is associated with Senate Majority whip and Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, Ogeto Ottachi & Co. Advocates associated with Solicitor General Ken Ogeto and National Lands Commission (NLC) chairman Gershom Otachi.

Also under investigations is Ojienda & Co. Advocates owned by prominent lawyer Prof Tom Ojienda and Maanzo & Co. Advocates associated with Mbooni MP Daniel Maanzo.

Others include Kwanga Mboya & Co. Advocates, Wanjiku Maina & Co. Advocates, Koceyo Co. Advocates, Mbaluka Co. Advocates, Njenga Maina Co. Advocates, Kandie Murtai Co. Advocates, Sirma Co. Advocates and Ongicho Ongicho Co. Advocates.

The payment schedule shows Kwanga Mboya & Co. Advocates, which was allegedly being fronted by a prominent Opposition MCA in Nairobi, was to receive Sh45 million while Wanjiku Maina & Co. Advocates, allegedly fronted by Mihang’o MCA Paul Kiguathi, aka Kados, was to receive Sh25 million.

“I don’t know that law firm and that should be treated as propaganda. I welcome the investigations by EACC because it will help unearth the cartels at City Hall,” Kados told People Daily when contacted yesterday.

Ogeto Ottachi & Co. Advocates was to pocket Sh20 million while Tom Ojienda & Co. Advocates was to receive Sh30 million.

Ojienda recently lost a claim of Sh94 million from the Nairobi county government for legal services he offered six years ago.

Njenga Maina & Co. Advocates, allegedly fronted by another top official at the county Assembly, was lined up to receive Sh40 million while Maanzo & Co. Advocates was to receive a modest Sh2.6 million.

Irungu Kang’ata & Co. Advocates was to pocket Sh3.3 million.

Other firms listed on the payment schedule included E. Oyaro & Co. Advocates (Sh10 million), Ario & Co. Advocates (Sh30 million), Maksam (Asanyo) (Sh20 million), E.N Omoti & Co. Advocates (Sh30 million), Koceyo & Co. Advocates (Sh15 million), R.M Wafula & Co. Advocates (Sh15 million), Mbaluka & Co. Advocates (Sh20 million and Ongicho Ongicho & Co. Advocates (Sh18 million).

Kariobangi South MCA Robert Mbatia, who is accused of fronting Mbaluka & Co. Advocates, yesterday distanced himself from the claim. “The said law firm has never represented me and it is high time Kenyans knew the truth. I’ve inquired from the Finance department and established that no such payments have been made,” he told People Daily.

Kang’ata has since denied any wrongdoing, saying he was paid because he did some work for the country government. “I got paid and everything ended well. These investigations are nothing but politics. I have been in public service as a councillor, MP and senator and these are the first investigations that I am facing,” he was quoted.

Maanzo said he would present himself to the EACC today to “have my name cleared so that I can start the process of having the county pay the huge monies they owe my law firm because I also need to pay my staff.” 

Yesterday, the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) President Nelson Havi waded into the matter, terming the investigations illegal. “Nairobi Metropolitan Services must look for legal ways of challenging fees paid to Advocates. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission has no business conducting this illegal probe. The LSK will not countenance harassment of its Members by the Executive,” said Havi.

Contacted, Otachi dismissed claims their law firm had received cash from the county government but acknowledged that they were owed.

 “The debt stretches back to 20 years for work done for the defunct Nairobi City Council and we have been making efforts to get it paid. It is about 40 million. An agreement was reached that the fees could be cleared in bits no payment has been made. We never received any cash from the Nairobi County government,” he told People Daily.

Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki also scoffed at the investigations into Kang’ata’s law firm. “I hear EACC has commenced investigations on my former student and now colleague Sen. Kang’ata. Quite sad. All the best my friend: Nothing can hurt a good man, in life or in death. It shall be well,” wrote Kindiki.

In the last financial year, the Nairobi county paid legal fees to the tune of Sh795.9 million to lawyers out of the Sh2.5 billion allocated for clearance of all pending bills, locking out other suppliers and contractors.   

The probe comes a few months after Nairobi MCAs raised concerns over the payment of large amounts of money to some law firms yet the county has not won any court cases recently.

The ward representatives also made allegations of favouritism by City Hall in the clearance of lawyers’ bills instead of small-scale suppliers owed less money.

As a result, MCAs, through a motion by Silvia Museiya (nominated), called on the county executive to come up with a policy to streamline outsourcing of legal services.

The legislators alleged that the outsourcing has turned into a business, with some lawyers colluding with officers in the executive, including those in the office of the county attorney, to siphon money from the county. They claimed an unnamed law firm was paid Sh250 million despite not carrying out any legal transaction with the county government.

The Auditor-General’s report for the 2016/2017 financial year revealed the department spent Sh592.4 million on unauthorised payments.

The payments were made without documentary evidence, including a total of Sh318.4 million which was sent to lawyers.

In the 2018/2019 financial year, a total of Sh795.9 million was paid to 48 law firms yet only eight raised fee notes.

During that financial year, 335 cases were handled by the legal department but only 12 of them were successful. 

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