The day after recruits reported for training last week, top military officials called a press conference to assure the public of the transparency that had gone into the month-long exercise.
However, Siasa Duni can now reveal the behind-the-scenes underhand dealings and short-changing that go on at the Recruit Training School in Eldoret. This has seen prospective recruits from poor backgrounds — with a huge burden on their shoulders back home — lose the slots they worked so hard for to the children of the rich, whose parents part with huge amounts of cash to secure them the much sought military jobs.
The case of Ms Gladys Chepkechei Tarus, who successfully passed a recruitment test in Baringo Central District, only to be turned away at the training school is just the tip of the iceberg.
On the eve of the recruitment, the Department of Defence headquarters warned the public against paying bribes to secure slots in the military. In his media briefing, vice Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant-General Julius Karangi, said the public had lost Sh19.3 million since January last year through bribes-for-jobs scams. But information on the ground indicated that the figure could be higher than what was disclosed by Lt-Gen Karangi.
Some of the military officials at Moi Barracks in Eldoret, where the Recruit Training School is based, were quick to point out the ugly scenes both during the actual recruitment in the districts and during the admission of qualifying candidates to the training school. And one of the officers implicated top serving military officers and their retired counterparts.
“Retired officers collect money from the public, promising them slots in the military,” said the officer, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from his seniors in the military. He said most of the culprits were retired majors from the forces. “Those serving at the highest level in the military also have their relatives and friends who are given service numbers even before the recruitment starts,” he added. “The military is one of the most corrupt departments in Kenya. There are many shady deals going on behind the scenes,” said another officer.
The media exposé of Ms Tarus’ tribulations has seen some military officers from the training school summoned to headquarters. Their fate is yet to be determined. A military officer attached to the training school alleged that Ms Tarus was replaced by a person who parted with Sh300,000. He said it was “tradition” at the school to use flimsy grounds to turn away some recruits. A senior officer at the training school allegedly took advantage of the death of Major Joseph Masaku — the recruiting officer in Baringo region who died in a road accident — and the absence of a medical officer to replace Ms Tarus.
According to Ms Tarus, a group of military officers questioned her for more than eight hours, asking her to tell them who she knew in government. They then took advantage of her innocence and humble background to dismiss her on allegations that she was pregnant.
And since military operations are normally secretive with the public, including anti-graft watchdogs kept in the dark “for security reasons”, it has been difficult to ascertain high-level corruption in the military. At a recruitment centre in Western Province, a 24-year-old man whose father sold half-an-acre to secure him a place in the army was disappointed after he was turned away. The father said his son never made it even after he had parted with Sh80,000. “Instead, my son was replaced by another man who had parted with Sh200,000,” said the man who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Major (rtd) John Seii agrees that military recruitment is marred by high level corruption. Mr Seii, who joined the military in the early ‘70s and retired in the ‘90s, says there used to be no corruption in the early years. “Corruption in the military was first witnessed in early ‘90s,” said Mr Seii, who is also the chairperson of the Kalenjin Council of Elders. He called on the Department of Defence to move with speed and establish who replaced the service number that had been given to Ms Tarus.
Mr Seii condemned defence spokesman Bogita Ongeri, who said that Ms Tarus’s fate had been sealed as the military only relies on its doctors. And on Tuesday, the parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities joined human rights groups in calling for the readmission of Ms Tarus to the training school. The MPs said they would summon Defence minister Yusuf Haji if the woman was not readmitted.
Ms Tarus’s mother, Salina Tarus, is calling on the government to intervene and ensure that her daughter gets the job. Speaking at her home in Kabarbarma in Ng’etmoi Location of Baringo Central constituency, she said she had lots of hopes after her daughter landed the job during the recruitment at Kabarnet on October 8. “Following the death of her father in 2000, I have been having a lot of difficulty educating my eight children and I had hoped that she will help me,” said the 40-year-old widow.
She said that she had an outstanding fee balance of Sh49,000 at Timboiwyo Secondary School, where one of her daughters - Jane Jepkosgei - cleared Form Four last year, and scored a mean grade of B plain. The mother added that her son, who is a Sacho High School student, was at home for lack of school fees.
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