Marked parastatal CEOs as Ruto team eyes fresh faces

President Ruto

President William Ruto. FILE  PHOTO | POOL

Tens of parastatal chief executives are sitting on the edge as Ruto’s administration aggressively seeks to replace top bosses in State-backed firms and agencies as it races to assert its influence.

Chief executives in at least nine cash-flush parastatals will see their terms expire in the coming months while over 11 of the firms have CEOs serving in an acting capacity, which are low-hanging fruits for new ministers to tap their allies for the coveted offices.

Traditionally, a change in administration often triggers shake-ups in parastatals as the President and ministers move to assert their influence over government-managed entities that have previously been used as centres of patronage by previous regimes.

The new administration, which came to power in September last year has mostly fired directors appointed in the former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s last days and populated the boards with losers in the August General Elections who supported his Ruto’s coalition.

This has set the stage for the replacement of chief executives of top State-owned firms by friendlier boards despite a majority of their contracts running up to next year.

Ministers will have to wait longer to replace the CEOs or tear up their contracts in a move that could prompt lawsuits.

The terms of chief executives in firms such as Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Geothermal Development Corporation (GDC), Kenya Railways Corporation and National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) have either lapsed in recent weeks or are set to expire in coming months.

Others are Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (Rerec), and Kenya Urban Roads Authority, triggering jostling for the top posts that will mainly be offered to technocrats aligned with the new administration.

Jared Othieno, chief executive of GDC and Peter Kamunyo of NHIF are on terminal leave pending the end of their contracts in April.

Dr Kamunyo and Mr Macharia Irungu of KPC had expressed interest in extending their tenure, but the freshly minted boards rejected their bids for longer terms. This prompted Mr Irungu to sue.

The tenure of Central Bank Governor Patrick Njoroge will come to an end in June.

Dr Njoroge was first appointed to his post in June 2015 for a four-year term, which is renewable once. It was renewed in June 2019.

Already, President Ruto has appointed former Wildlife PS Susan Koech as the second deputy governor of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), in what will cure a leadership lacuna at the banking regulator in June when Dr Njoroge and his sole assistant Sheila M’Mbijjewe finish their last term.

CEOs of cash-rich-parastatals such as the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) and Kenya National Highways Authority (KeNHA have contracts running into 2024.

The law says chief executives can only be removed from office due to absenteeism, jailed for a term exceeding six months and prolonged sickness or mental incapacitation.

They can also be pushed to resign in a rule that ministers have exploited before to force out CEOs of State-owned firms.

Ensuing fallouts have triggered lawsuits that have seen some chief executives get back their jobs and others receive compensation for unfair dismissal.

On February 23, an unfriendly new government and a board headed by an assertive chairman forced Githii Mburu to cut short his fresh five-year term amid a fresh shake-up of the Kenya Revenue Authority’s C-suite.

Mr Mburu opted to resign less than eight months into his new term in changes that have seen the KRA board replace three of seven managers on the agency’s top executive team.

President Ruto has never concealed his displeasure with KRA’s previous aggressive clampdown on the rich in an effort to recover unpaid taxes and raise national revenues.

Mr Anthony Mwaura was appointed KRA chairman in November in changes that also saw the naming of five new directors on January 12, leaving only State representatives and smoothening Mr Mburu’s replacement.

Top jobs at Kenya Power, KPC, KenGen, Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) and Kenya Electricity Transmission Company will be low-hanging fruits for new ministers.

The State-owned entities have not had substantive CEOs for months and the positions look set to attract jostling by political and business operatives for their preferred candidates.

Section 34 [3] of the Public Service Commission Act, No. 10 of 2017 says public officers can only serve in an acting capacity for a maximum period of six months.

The ethnic composition of appointments under the Ruto administration is also coming under scrutiny.

An earlier report showed that Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities dominated top jobs in government, embassies and chief executive positions in parastatals.

On CEOs of parastatals, Kikuyus took 20 percent of the positions followed by Kalenjins at 19.4 percent, Luo (14.4 percent) and Luhya (10 percent).

The Constitution introduced the ethnic representation requirements to check a historical trend where tribesmen of those in power were favoured during recruitment.

Ethnic groups whose job representation surpasses their corresponding national population proportion are considered to be over-represented.

The Kikuyu and Kalenjin dominance mirrors the two tribes’ presence at the highest office in Kenya since independence.

President Kenyatta succeeded Mr Kibaki, both Kikuyus. President Daniel arap Moi who ruled for 24 years before Mr Kibaki was a Kalenjin. President Ruto is also a Kalenjin.

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