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Kenya's water minister questioned over corruption

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s minister for water was questioned by investigators Friday over suspicious government tenders and contracts awarded to firms linked with her, the country’s anti-graft commission said.

Members of the new "National Rainbow Coalition", Raila Odinga (L) and Charity Ngilu talk October 14, 2002 during a rally attended by tens of thousands of opposition supporters to launch a new political alliance to challenge the ruling KANU party in the December elections. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

Charity Ngilu recorded a statement with the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC), the latest minister to be questioned in the country’s revitalised fight against graft, after weeks of accusations in the local media and parliament.

The allegations were sparked by Ngilu’s former deputy, who claimed he was moved to another ministry to cover up rampant corruption in the water ministry.

“Ngilu appeared before KACC to shed light on issues touching on conflict of interest in award of tenders and contracts to companies associated with her, and irregular procurement and tendering procedures in the construction of dams and sinking boreholes,” KACC said in a statement.

Ngilu, who is aligned to Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s side of the grand coalition government, was not immediately available for comment.

KACC director Patrick Lumumba told reporters the agency had spoken to several water officials and would examine their statements to see if Ngilu and some of her staff were involved in criminal activities under the anti-economic crimes law.

Other high-profile officials have been interviewed over corruption accusations in recent weeks, a sign that President Mwai Kibaki’s government is stepping up its long-promised war against the vice.

Analysts say graft has tarnished east Africa’s biggest economy for decades, stifling growth and discouraging investors.

Kenya’s industrialisation minister Henry Kosgey has also been questioned over illegal car imports. He was named by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as one of the suspects involved in the violence that followed Kenya’s disputed 2007 presidential elections.

Lumumba said Tuesday he would forward in the next week the case files of four other ministers accused of graft to the attorney general for possible prosecution.

At least six other ministers have been suspended or forced to step aside over graft allegations since Kibaki came to power on an anti-graft platform in 2002. Four regained their seats after their cases never made it to court.

Kenya is ranked 154th out of 178 countries on Transparency International’s latest corruption perceptions index.

Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula and Higher Education Minister William Ruto remain suspended from their posts.

Ruto was also named as one of the key masterminds of the post election violence by the ICC, but denies any role.

Reporting by Humphery Malalo; Editing by Wangui Kanina; Editing by Jon Hemming