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Counterfeit agency boss caught in fake number plates scandal

The head of the anti-counterfeit authority has been caught up in a storm after it emerged that the private number plates for his official car were forged in Kirinyaga Road, Nairobi.

The senior State official was also found to have altered the tracking gadget in one other vehicle assigned to him. However, he defended the move, saying he took the decision for “private and security” reasons.

Ironically, the revelations that a vehicle assigned to the Anti-Counterfeiting Agency (ACA) had fake number plates would never have been brought to light had the car not been involved in an accident on December 21, 2014.

MISUSE OF RESOURCES

A report on the investigations of how the accident occurred revealed the wanton misuse of a government resource and raised the probability that there could be other government cars on the roads fitted with fake number plates and being used for private errands with impunity.

A committee investigating the circumstances of the crash heard how the acting ACA director, Mr John Akoten, gave his driver money to procure the fake set of civilian plates to replace the blue ones assigned to his official car, a Volkswagen Passat, registration number KBQ 633D. The car was valued at Sh3.6 million.

“Due to police check units in Isiolo, Nakuru and Kitale, the acting executive director instructed his driver to make private number plates after the initial set was withdrawn. The acting ED gave the driver Sh2,500 and he went to make it on Kirinyaga Road in Nairobi,” the committee’s report reveals.

“The transport officer also had his controls over the Passat withdrawn after the Mr Akoten instructed him several times to remove the vehicle from tracking, but he declined.”

The Transport Officer, whose job was to manage the authority’s 14 vehicles, suddenly found himself unable to track Mr Akoten’s two official vehicles. He was also unable to explain how one of the cars suddenly had civilian number plates.

DESTROYED NUMBER PLATES

The officer’s predecessor, Mr Titus Kipchumba, had destroyed the initial number plates in line with a circular from the Government Chief of Staff and Head of the Public Service, Mr Joseph Kinyua, who had instructed all parastatals to ensure all government vehicles have the required blue number plates.

The circular was issued in April 2014 and Mr Kipchumba duly complied with the instructions. Curiously, he resigned shortly thereafter under unclear circumstances.

Sources within ACA intimated that Mr Akoten was furious after Mr Kipchumba fitted the blue number plates on the cars.

Once Mr Kipchumba resigned, Mr Akoten’s driver acquired sweeping powers emboldened by being the custodian of the secret behind the private number plates. He also knew how his boss used the car to run private errands. He would even drive the Passat while on leave and during weekends.

All this time the car would be fuelled by the taxpayer. In fact, a day before the car was involved in accident, Mr Akoten’s driver had used it to attend the graduation ceremony of a relative at Kenyatta University.

He later admitted signing for the release of another vehicle to ferry 19 of Mr Akoten’s relatives to attend yet another graduation ceremony.

ON LEAVE

On the Sunday when the car was involved in an accident, the driver, Mr Reuben Makokha, was on the fourth day of his Christmas leave — just like his boss.

Mr Makokha was to pick up Mr Akoten’s wife, who was arriving from Mombasa that day. However, because he was unwell, he called one of his colleagues to run the errand. As fate would have it, the vehicle crashed on Forest Road. The driver said he had swerved to avoid hitting a motorcyclist.

Unfortunately, the car’s gear box was damaged and the vehicle was immobilised from the impact that also destroyed the front left wheel and deployed both the front airbags.

The man who was driving the car at the time could not report the accident, first, because the vehicle had fake number plates and secondly because he was not the designated driver.

“There was no work ticket signed and the accident happened on a Sunday,” the committee investigating the incident wrote in its report, a copy of which was seen by the Daily Nation.

A high-ranking official at the State Corporations Advisory Committee (SCAC), whose responsibility is to oversee conduct for state corporation officers, acknowledged having received the report, but wondered why the board had not met to deal with the culprits.

“It is not that we have abandoned the case but we want to allow the board to run the corporations as provided in Section 15(1) of the State Corporation’s Act,” he said in a recent interview.

POLITICAL PROTECTION

“Obviously someone does not want the board to sit and the CEO seems to have some political protection. I think the entire body started on the wrong foot with each board member bringing their relatives there.”

The ACA board has not met since January 28. It is, itself, embroiled in a leadership dispute after Mr Polycarp Igathe was appointed chairman. His appointment has been contested twice in court over allegations of conflict of interest. With no full board sitting, such matters are unlikely to be addressed unless the SCAC intervenes.

The high probability that the impunity rampant at the agency could be replicated in other government institutions raises fears that Kenyans could be footing fuel bills and repair costs for government vehicles being used for private errands.

In 2014, the government leased 2,700 vehicles in a Sh6.7 billion deal with firms such as Toyota Kenya, CMC, Ecta Kenya, Land Rover dealers RMA Kenya and General Motors East Africa.

The government is still implementing the multibillion-shilling motor vehicle lease plan, which was first mooted in 2010.

The deal also involves repairs and fuelling of the cars to promote service delivery.

DENIED FAKING PLATES

Confronted with the allegations that he misused the government car, Mr Akoten denied faking the number plates and told the committee investigating the case that he had not even realised that the vehicle had private number plates although he had used it for more than eight months before it crashed.

The committee doubted his account, including his denial about sending his driver to pick up his wife. He had, however, admitted before the committee that he had wanted the tracking privileges changed.

“When people can view and see where you are, it can actually create a lot of problems,” Mr Akoten had told the committee.

Asked why he had not taken responsibility for the incident and stepped aside or even resigned, Mr Akoten directed the Nation to ask Trade and Industrilisation Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed about the case.

Mr Mohamed dismissed any questions on the matter, referring them back to Mr Akoten.

“Those are questions you should ask the acting Executive Director. How can I answer about a vehicle in one of my parastatals?” Mr Adan asked when contacted for a comment.

It has been six months since investigations were completed and CMC — which has been holding the car at its Lusaka Road premises — has sent a Sh2.8 million bill for keeping the car in its custody. After the accident, the car was not taken into government premises for two months, when it was eventually towed to CMC Motors.

REPAIRS IN GARAGE

Interestingly, that the car was involved in an accident would never have come to light had the two drivers not found the bill for repairing it too costly for their modest incomes. The report says that they had taken the car for repairs at a garage on Baricho Road but could not afford to pay for repairs.

It is also possible that the car — which was not being tracked — could have been used for any activity, including illegal ones.

The committee found the two drivers guilty of operating the vehicle while on leave and making a fake number plate for the Passat as well as conspiracy to cover up an accident that had severely damaged a government car.

The two drivers were temporally suspended but Mr Makokha was cleared while the accident driver was dismissed.

However, he has since obtained a court order re-instating him. Mr Akotem was also reprimanded for encouraging impunity with his driver becoming so bold as to use the car during holidays without authority.

“Respect for government property is not an option for any individual regardless of their status. The public has entrusted us to serve them while managing their resources with diligence, utmost professionalism, honesty and integrity,” the committee noted.

Mr Akoten has been acting for more than three years since the parastatal was formed in 2010 to deal with the multibillion-shilling toxic industry of counterfeits. His position — like that of the board chairman — has been advertised twice.