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Mystery as school bus bought with CDF cash turned into matatu

A school bus that was bought using taxpayers’ money has mysteriously changed hands and been converted into a public service vehicle without ever being used for the original purpose, the Sunday Nation can reveal.

The bus, registration number KCE 129L, was bought by the Embakasi South National Government Constituencies Development Fund (NGCDF — or simply CDF) in the 2014/15 financial year for St Stevens Secondary School in Embakasi. Irshad Sumra was then the area MP and is vying on ODM ticket in the by-election slated for April 5 this year.

After initially being told the bus was operating in the city on Wednesday, the Sunday Nation team traced it to Nyangancha Market in Kisii County where it has remained parked for the past three weeks. It bears the brand colours and insignia of City Shuttle, a company that runs buses on several routes in Nairobi.

The director of St Stevens Secondary School, Mr Zablon Karani, however, says that the bus has not been converted to a matatu.

“I am not aware that the bus has been rebranded. Some people are just making up pictures and sharing them. According to me, the bus is at the garage,” said Mr Karani.

He could, however, not direct us to the garage where the bus was and the Sunday Nation team can confirm tracing the bus to its current location in Kisii County.

“Gari ililetwa juzi na vijana wakaambiwa watoe hiyo rangi ya City Shuttle na ingine itapakwa. Hata ukiangalia gari hapo mbele imeshaanza kutolewa rangi (The bus was brought here the other day and some mechanics were told to remove the City Shuttle colours and repaint it. In fact, work has already started),” said a source in Kisii.

ABANDONED

Last Sunday, the bus was relocated to an unknown site following our enquiries.

At the Nyangancha market, the Sunday Nation team got into trouble with a gang that had been guarding the bus after they realised pictures were being taken.

Residents we spoke to said the bus had been there for more than three weeks and they were wondering why a Nairobi-based vehicle had been abandoned in one of the most remote parts of Kisii County.

“We are also wondering why the owner who we are told is from Nyamira is not taking it to his home county. We suspect something fishy,” said one of the residents.

On arrival at the market that is on the Kenyenya-Nyagancha Road, we spotted a few people seated outside a shop near the spot where the bus had been parked.

A number of them charged towards us as soon as we started taking photos of the bus and demanded to know who we were and why we had not sought permission from them to take photos of ‘their’ property. We later discovered that the bus was being guarded by members of a local vigilante group on the orders of its ‘owner’.

“You should have consulted us before taking the photos,” reprimanded a tall dark man. Later, the man handed us over to another, who said he was the driver of the bus. He ordered us to delete the photos we had taken, saying the owner of the bus had not authorised the photography.

OWNERSHIP

“This bus has an issue and it is not right for you people to just come and take photos,” said another one, who also claimed to be the driver after consulting with his boss on phone.

In a subsequent telephone conversation, the driver who refused to give his name said: “I have been operating the bus for the past four months under the City Shuttle fleet. We just brought it here (Kisii) for repairs but it will be back to Nairobi soon to continue operating as a PSV.

“The bus was bought from the school after it was involved in an accident and the CDF committee abandoned it at the garage. The owner of the school repaired and then sold it.”

We have since established that the bus briefly operated under the City Shuttle Sacco, plying the Utawala route in Nairobi. It was only pulled off the route when a group of youths from Mukuru raised questions with the school’s management.

Curiously, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) records show the bus has not been registered under any sacco.

Information obtained from NTSA on February 20 has Mwananchi Credit Limited and Zipporah Buyaki Nyakwara listed as the current owners, with St Stevens Secondary School indicated as the previous owner.

“We changed its ownership because of the loan we took to repair the bus after it was involved in an accident. We had to pay Sh1.2 million to fix it,” said Mr Karani, the school’s director.

CONTROVERSY

Questions have also been raised on whether it was proper for the school to benefit from taxpayers’ money yet it is privately owned. However, Mr Karani said the school is registered as a Community-Based Organisation (CBO), which makes it eligible for NG-CDF financing.

When we reached out to Mr Sumra, he admitted the school’s status was not clear.

“We made a mistake in purchasing a bus for St Stevens Secondary School, which we realised later, so we decided to re-allocate it (the bus) to Embakasi Girls. But, unfortunately, it was involved in an accident that killed people. The bus is at the garage and immediately it’s good we shall take it to Embakasi Girls,” he said, apparently unaware that it had been turned into a public service vehicle.

A similar controversy arising from the 2014/15 financial year is simmering at Njenga Primary School, a public institution in the heart of the sprawling Mukuru slums.

The school was allocated Sh5.38 million for a school bus. While the project is marked as having been “completed” on November 28, 2015, the school principal, Cyprine Aboye, says she has never seen the bus within the school premises and was not involved in any process of buying it.

Mr Sumra said the bus was at the NG-CDF offices since it was not safe at Kwa Njenga Primary, which has no perimeter wall.

Mr Dominic Ndung’u, a former chairman of the school board of management, claims the two buses – the one meant for Njenga primary and the other one for St Steven Secondary – were at some point branded with the colours of two opposition political parties and used in the 2017 campaigns, a claim we could not independently verify.