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Parliamentary Committee forced to adjourn sitting with Italian officials

A committee of the Kenya National Assembly was forced to adjourn its sitting at the Malindi Space Centre in Kilifi County, Friday, after top Italian Government officials failed to show-up at the scheduled meeting.

The Committee on Implementation, which was on a fact-finding mission at the Ngomeni-based centre, also known as the Luigi Broglio Space Centre, was infuriated by the fact that only Italian Ambassador to Kenya, Roberto Natali, was the only senior Italian official present.

Also present at the meeting were Defence Principal Secretary, Patrick Malilo, Kilifi Deputy Governor Flora Chibule and senior officials from the Department of Defence and the Kenya Space Agency.

Committee Chairman, Rahael Wanjala (Budalangi), said the Committee expected to meet with the Italian Minister for Defence and his Principal Secretary, who he said were the main decision makers on issues relating to a bilateral agreement signed between the Kenyan and Italian Governments on the running of the space centre.

“We expected to meet the people who are able to make the decisions; and according to that agreement, it is the minister from Italy and the minister from Kenya. Already we have met the Minister and Principal Secretary from Kenya. We have not met the Minister and Principal Secretary from Italy,” Mr Wanjala told journalists.

He said the Committee would convene another meeting at the Centre within three weeks in which the top Italian Government officials are expected to attend, failure to which the National Assembly would use relevant laws, to initiate the process of withdrawing from the agreement.

“This project was started in 1962 and there were things that were agreed at, which seem not to have been honoured by the Italian Government, yet the Kenyan Government has honoured its part,” he said.

“This Committee is a committee on implementation and we want those things that were agreed in the agreement to be honoured. If they are not honoured, then we will use the section (of the law), that will help us to withdraw from the agreement,” Wanjala added.

Mr Wanjala said the Committee had wanted to establish how many Kenyans are employed at the Space Centre, how many development projects had been initiated in the area and how many Kenyans had been picked from Kenya to study matters of air space technology in Italy, as per the bilateral agreement.

He said the team that was in the meeting was not in a position to give members of the Committee the satisfactory answers.

“They claim they are working with Kenya on other issues. We have no problem with that. For us, we have specific issues. We want to know how many Kenyans are employed here, how many development projects they have initiated here, how many students have been icked by our government to go and study on the issues of air space and so on,” he said.

His sentimental were echoed by, Elijah Memusi (Kajiado Central), who noted that Kenyan employees at the Centre were junior, with diploma as the highest qualification, because the Italian Government had not honoured its part of the agreement, to train Kenyans on space technology.

Members of the Kenya National Assembly Committee on Implementation tour the Malindi Space Centre, also known as the Luigi Broglio Space Centre in Ngomeni area of Kilifi County.

However, Principal Secretary, Patrick Malilo, said there were no disagreements since the Italian government had responded to issues raised by Cabinet Secretary, Aden Duale, in writing, but acknowledged that the Committee had not seen the responses.

“There weren’t disagreements because the Italian Government did respond to the issues raised by our Cabinet Secretary. They responded in writing, but those responses, the Committee hadn’t gotten. The Chairman has given us three weeks and by then they will have gotten the responses then, make a determination,” he said.

The PS emphasized the importance of the Space Centre to both the Kenyan and Italian Governments, but noted that in such a framework, there was bound to be one or two teething issues, which he was optimistic would be resolved.

“We now have Parliament getting in as the representative of the people. They are asking hard questions both to the Ministry of Defence and the Italian Government. Those hard questions will be answered and then eventually, we will have all these issues settled and the people of Kenya and Italy will continue to draw maximum value from this Centre,” he said.

Italian Ambassador to Kenya, Roberto Natali, said the Italian Government had already sent the responses and hoped that the documents would give satisfactory answers to the questions raised by the Kenyan Government through the Ministry of Defence.

“This is the only foreign space you have in Kenya and it is the only space base Italy has abroad and we have to work together. The target is to solve those small misunderstandings, so that we can forge ahead in our bilateral relations,” he said.

Defence Cabinet Secretary, Aden Duale, in a July 13, 2023 meeting with the Committee, accused the Italian Government of reneging on the Malindi Space Centre agreement.

The agreement on the facility was based on five areas of cooperation – support for the Kenya Space Agency (KSA), access to earth observation and space science data, education and training, telemedicine and the establishment of an earth observation centre – which Mr Duale says the Italian Government has reneged on.

By Emmanuel Masha

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