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Oil prices were steadily sliding in tandem with global trends until an artificial fuel shortage suddenly halted the decline at Christmas time last year.
One man and his company managed to get preferential storage space for his oil imports at the Kipevu Oil Storage Facility and used it to hoard the product, waiting for prices to look up.
Never mind that there are rules creating limits on how much storage space one company can have at the facility and for how long — usually no longer than 45 days.
Somehow, he pinched the oil from right under the noses of the Kenya Pipeline Company, because it ain’t there anymore.
At the same time, he failed to supply the other oil marketers as required by the tender his company had won to import the product on their behalf.
The laws of demand and supply have since kicked in to keep the price of petrol at Sh78.90 in Nairobi — despite international prices hitting a record low of $37 per barrel, a mere quarter what they were in July last year.
Mr Yagnesh Devani is the man behind Triton Petroleum. This is the firm that was placed under receivership because it could not meet its Sh7.6 billion obligations to bankers and oil marketers.
Mr Devani made his millions during the Moi years by selling diesel to the Kenya Railways Corporation when no one else would. At the time, KR was so broke that no one would supply it with the diesel to run its trains. He took the risk but decided to use his political connections to get his payments.
He once tendered for lifting crude from Nigeria on behalf of the National Oil Corporation of Kenya and was in the running to buy BP stations when the oil dealer decided to close shop in Kenya.
Some people say he also sold kerosene to Kenya Power and Lighting Company. Back in 2006, when Charterhouse Bank was being investigated by the Central Bank for money laundering, Triton was cited in Parliament as one of the customers that received irregularly large loans from the institution.
During the fuel shortage in December, the Energy Permanent Secretary said something to the effect that Kenyans were engaging in panic-buying because the Christmas festivities.
The Ministry of Energy has spent considerable time and energy defending the actions and omissions of Triton. Its officials have done everything possible to put distance between the fuel crisis in Kenya and Triton — and they continue to lie.
The Sh7.6 billion oil scandal is only an indication of how matters stand with regard to influence peddling in Kenya. What should give everyone pause is the fact that the owner of Triton is such a man of connections that he has the entire government in his pocket.
President Kibaki has been photographed at a Triton Petroleum function, generally looking happy and encouraging to the ‘investors’.
Mr Devani is immortalised in a picture with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former Vice-President Moody Awori.
It would be excused as accidental if this sad affair was the lone case of poor judgment on the part of Kenya’s leadership in associating so closely with business people of suspect intentions.
But it isn’t. Since the Grand Coalition Government was put together, there has been one financial scandal after another, month-on-month.
This proclivity of government officials to get into bed with individuals keen to rob the public purse flies in the face of the principles that set it up — to tackle the issues of impunity and assure transparency and accountability in public affairs.
The excuse called the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission continues in office at great public expense, unaware of all these matters in the public domain — well past its term of office. Is Parliament awake?
Dodging PM’s question time
As Parliament resumes this week, there is every likelihood that the new Standing Orders passed last year will kick in. They are all sensible rules about what Members of Parliament can or cannot do in their triple role as representatives of the people, watchdogs over the Executive and lawmakers.
One new addition to the Standing Orders, made as an indulgence to the Prime Minister, allocates 45 minutes every Wednesday afternoon for Mr Raila Odinga to reply to questions that cut across ministries.
In that time, the PM may make a speech or respond to questions about policy or how the Government that he “coordinates and supervises” is working.
The merits are not difficult to see, given that Question Time is normally relayed live via the national broadcaster. This free airtime will also cover Prime Minister’s Question Time and can be employed to endear Mr Odinga to the Kenyan public.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason, Mr Odinga is not a very popular man among his peers in Parliament just now. With his exalted title and little gravy to pass around and even less gravitas to stress people, he is a man keen on being noticed but to whom notice could only bring opprobrium.
Many MPs regard him as a busybody, a remark once made in his hearing at Parliament Buildings and nearly yielded physical consequences.
If the reception he received when he attempted to speak about the Kenya Communication Amendment Bill before the President signed it into law is anything to go by, he does not command a lot of respect among MPs.
The backbenchers in his Orange Democratic Movement who missed out on ministerial appointments, as well as their colleagues in the Party of National Unity, seem to have their knives out for him all the time.
The magic he wielded to instil party discipline in ODM seems to have deserted him.
Evidence abounds in the numerous side meetings he and President Kibaki had to hold with MPs to get them to disband the Electoral Commission of Kenya.
Now, in this atmosphere, place a PM whose attempts to “coordinate and supervise” government is seen — even by ministers he appointed — as interference and start demanding answers for 45 minutes.
The MPs will eat him alive. In all likelihood, Mr Odinga will lose his temper, and with it his coherence. It is bad TV; and it will not enhance his image if it goes on week after week for a year.
The PM would be best advised to give this regular exposure a wide berth — maybe nominate one of his deputies to take the heat.
Israel must bow to the UN
For three straight weeks, Israel has pounded Gaza with bombs in retaliation for 13 deaths resulting from rockets launched by the militant group Hamas.
In those strikes, an estimated 1,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed, 42 of them in a school next to a United Nations compound.
On Thursday, Israel struck a UN agency. Israel has argued that it has a right to defend itself against aggression, and no one disputes that. The systematic targeting of civilians under the pretext of taking out militants using civilians as human shields, however, rests on faulty logic and is a war crime.
Since its forcible establishment in the Middle East in 1948, Israel has epitomised unaccountable power, arrogance and injustice on the basis of its right to exist.
The United Nations Security Council has passed 101 resolutions requiring Israel to cease its aggressive behaviour. It makes Israel the most sanctioned state on earth. Israel has disregarded more than half of all those resolutions, including Number 1860, the one made last week.
The world must face up to the reality of the rogue behaviour of this one state and the sour grapes it has forced on numerous people. As a result of the bitterness, powerlessness and desperation that Israel tactics have engendered, the world is today the inheritor of terrorism.
The illegitimate belief in the subjugation of others, the misplaced belief of being select and therefore above other people’s has no place in the community of nations.
It has instead created fear and insecurity as the currency of international relations between the weak and the strong. International law should kick in and people who keep committing these crimes against humanity brought to justice at the International Criminal Court.
PARASTATAL heads who signed the Mombasa port community charter risk being sacked if their agencies do not deliver on the contents of the new entity. The charter signed between the government and the private sector aims at improving the movement of cargo from the port into hinterland