Kenyan tourism chief’s frightful ‘Shs 100million’ theft

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Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) Managing Director, Dr. Ong’ong’a Achieng, was sacked late Tuesday as the country’s authorities intensified the anti-corruption fight.

Dr. Achieng, who headed the state tourism marketing agency, was kicked out for allegedly misappropriating KShs 99 million (I US dollar=79 Kenya Shillings) through corrupt deals. He was replaced by a senior official in the tourism sector, Maryanne Ndegwa-Jordan, in an acting capacity. Tourism Minister, Najib Balala, confirmed the developments Wednesday and vowed to fight graft in the tourism sector.

Shs 35millon and Shs 64million unaccounted for

Achieng, who headed the body tasked with marketing Kenya as a tourist destination, was said to have paid Shs 35 million to a single-sourced company – Prime Outdoor Network- for outdoor promotions early 2008, an expenditure government auditors queried due to lack of evidence of any work undertaken.

The implicated private company is listed at the Registrar of Companies as having been formed 22 December, 2000, with Ignatius Odhiambo and Francis Raudo as directors. Media reports alleged that KTB was also involved in misappropriation of Shs 64 million in advertisements and for President Mwai Kibaki’s visit to one of Kenya’s most famous game reserves, Masai Mara, in August 2008.

Further claims included direct payments made to Maniago Safaris by the Catering and Tourism Development Levy trustees on the instructions of KTB without going through the approved channels, according to a letter from KTB chairman Jake Grieves -Cook.

Addressing the press at his office Wednesday, Balala confirmed that the government has instituted investigations into the misappropriation of the Shs 35 million. The minister assured Kenyans the money will be recovered in due course, adding that he is all out to stamp out rampant corruption in the tourism sector in the country.

A tough recovery from devastating effects

Achieng, son of decorated freedom fighter and a former cabinet minister, the late Achieng Oneko, was kicked out at a time when Kenya’s tourism industry is recovery from the devastating effects of the 2008 post-election violence, which saw thousands of tourists who planned to spend their holidays in the east African country, cancelling their bookings for fear of their safety.

The post-poll violence was occasioned by the disputed 27 December 2007 presidential elections in which both incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and the then leading opposition challenger (now prime minister), Raila Odinga claimed victory. The skirmishes almost pushed the tourism sector to its knees.

A new director and depleted funds

Prior to her appointment, Ndegwa-Jordan was an investment manager, at the state tourism development corporation – Kenya Tourist Development Corporation (KTDC). She holds a bachelor degree in hospitality management and tourism and a master degree in investment and finance.

“I am up to the task, a fast learner and I am sure to deliver,” Ndegwa-Jordan assured after assuming office. Balala said Ndegwa-Jordan will work in acting capacity until the government appoints a new manager through what he said will be a competitive appointment. The minister said the tourism ministry’s advertising kitty was insufficient compared to other countries that are investing heavily in the sector and was disgusted by the theft of public funds in the ministry.

According to the minister, Kenya’s tourism industry was facing a 33 per cent shortfall in tourist arrivals into the country, adding that the government was working on modalities to fund the sector and market Kenya worldwide to salvage the negative image occasioned by the post-poll skirmishes.

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