Antony Omerikwa: Quiet exit for NSSF boss who managed to calm boardroom

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anthonyomerikwanssf17de2

Anthony Omerikwa, the former chief executive at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), steered the pension fund quietly for seven years, calming the boardroom storms that had become synonymous with the institution.

When Dr Omerikwa left the office last month, he did so without much fuss.

His exit after a solitary term that began in 2019 highlights once again what has now become one of the most tempest-tossed jobs in corporate Kenya.

“Today is my last day as the CEO of NSSF and marks a momentous change of leadership in an institution that I have steered with dedication as a team leader for over seven years,” he announced in November.

“It has been a deeply humbling experience serving my country through this institution. I take great memories and valuable lessons.”

Dr Omerikwa had joined the fund 11 years ago as a manager, rising through the ranks to become the boss. During his tenure, the institution’s assets grew from Sh195 billion to Sh290 billion.

“I am a very proud Kenyan for all we achieved in transforming the institution,” he added in his exit letter.

During his tenure, the NSSF’s exposure to litigation was significantly reduced, safeguarding its assets.

But his rise to the top post was not without controversy. He had served as interim CEO of the State fund for 56 months before the government confirmed him for the role three years ago.

This was longer than the full three-year term one is supposed to serve at the NSSF.

It also makes Dr Omerikwa one of the longest-serving acting CEOs of State institutions in the country.

Before his substantive appointment in 2019, divisions emerged on the NSSF board, delaying the submission of his name to then Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani for confirmation.

Some directors had demanded fresh recruitment following claims that the process that settled on Dr Omerikwa had been defective.

It took pressure by Parliament to force the NSSF board of trustees to have him confirmed.

His exit also heightens the drama involving the top leadership of the NSSF.

Before 2015, the corner office had had 10 occupants, all of who were pushed out in a cloud of scandal.

The fights stemmed from either supremacy battles or the misappropriation of pensioners’ money.

In 2018, the Auditor-General raised concerns that 13 out of the 17 top managers at the pension scheme, or 76 percent, were serving in an acting capacity.

Labour laws and government rules require executives appointed to senior positions at State bodies in an acting capacity to serve for not more than six months.

During this period, the body is expected to find a substantive candidate to occupy the office in question.

While Dr Omerikwa was eligible for a fresh three-year term, the government did not renew his tenure.

Ordinarily, the State renews the term of most top executives heading State corporations after their first term rather than terminate their tenure.

This renewal, though, occurs at the behest of the line minister, based on the individual’s alignment with the policy and agenda of the government of the day.

His departure, though, is not surprising as it adds to a long list of heads of State institutions who have left their positions since September when the Kenya Kwanza government took power.

He may have struck significant milestones at the fund, but Dr Omerikwa believes Kenya has “a critical mass that is underserved” by pension schemes in the country.

This is especially so for those working in the informal sector.

“More than 15 million Kenyans are not in any pension scheme. We have the infrastructure ready to bring them on board,” he said at a forum last year.

He has also been vocal about Kenya’s appetite for borrowing and what the country must do to tame the rising debt burden.

“The government should borrow locally if Kenya is to live within its means. This, together with the mobilisation of savings in NSSF and the greater pension industry, will help reduce the debt,” he said.

It is believed that Dr Omerikwa’s departure allows President William Ruto to pick his favoured candidate to fill the position at one of the most critical institutions in the country.

A few weeks after taking over the government, the President argued that Kenyans have not been saving enough, indicating his desire to revamp the institution to boost contributions to the fund.

Employers deduct and remit to NSSF Sh200 from their employees every month, money that goes to their pension. For many years, the fund has mostly targeted Kenyans in formal employment.

“There is no rate of return on earth that can grow this into an adequate pension,” Dr Ruto said during his inaugural address to Parliament in September, promising to overhaul the institution to make it more inclusive.

“We just have to be honest with ourselves. You cannot pretend you are saving by saving Sh200,” the President noted.

The restructuring would begin with the departure of Dr Omerikwa, who was replaced by fellow senior manager David Ndolo Mwangangi.

Mr Mwangangi’s appointment last month by the NSSF board sees another insider take over at the fund. Like his predecessor, Mr Mwangangi will serve in an acting capacity, until the board confirms a new CEO.

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