Mobile subscribers, the telecommunication industry and the ICT sector in general in Kenya, have every reason to worry. The regulator’s house is not in order and it is getting messier.
This was clearly demonstrated by recent media reports indicating that the director general of the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) had taken his deputy, who is also the director of licensing, compliance and standards, to court on account.
That the dispute about alleged usurping of powers was not solved at the CA’s human resource department’s arbitration structures, which would naturally be the first port of call, or even the board, tells a lot. Does it mean the leadership does not trust its own structures.
This state of affairs speaks to the CA effectiveness (and lack of it) in policing the ICT industry.
How would the two managers, after such a public duel on the corridors of justice, return to one accord to regulate this crucial industry? It would obviously take more than just a handshake, unlike politics.
That the dispute continues to simmer is a clear breach of corporate governance at the CA. With two top officials at cross-purposes, how would the industry have faith in the far-reaching decisions that the authority is expected to make?
This dispute, so bad that it has gotten to court, compromises the very function of the regulator. It could end up (if it has not) breeding an environment that is fertile for vested interests to sneak in and take control of operations of the authority and influence its decisions.
According to media reports on the conflict, the director general’s gripe is that the deputy is making critical decisions without consultations.
With possible two centres of power, accountability at this important organisation becomes compromised. It does not help that the tiff pits the head of an important division — licensing, compliance and standards — against his boss, who is the overall head of the authority.
Remember, the director general of this agency moved to court earlier in the year to seek redress when the board bundled him out of office and asked to go on compulsory leave, a duel that he eventually won and was reinstated.
The director general, in a sworn affidavit during the case, alleged conflict of interest in the board, with certain members apparently staying in active employment of players in the same industry they are meant to regulate.
Besides, he claimed, there is interference in the running of the authority from the parent ministry as well as the Board due to individual private interests that he had resisted. It is instructive that no public pronouncement has ever been made in relation to this claim, by the parent ICT Ministry.
A divided CA does not augur well for the ICT industry.
This kind of conflict among leaders is unprecedented — perhaps with the exception of the perennial tug-of-war between county governors and their deputies.
It is time the parent ministry put this authority in order.
Coming at a time the telecommunications industry is undergoing an important period of debate, introspection and transition, such divisions do not inspire confidence at all.
Ongoing discussion around the state of competition in the industry can only add value and be meaningful under sober leadership of the regulator.
A solid, united regulator is what the consumer and the taxpayer are asking for from the industry watchdog and the ministry.
No investor, existing or potential, would put their money in an industry whose regulator is dogged by leadership wrangles.
A house divided, as the Bible puts it, cannot stand.
Kenneth Basanga, Via Email