Ruto ejects over 120 Uhuru allies in parastatal changes

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President William Ruto (centre), Deputy Rigathi Gachagua, Chair of Governors, Ann Waiguru and other leaders during a consultative meeting with county governors in Naivasha, Nakuru County on February 10, 2023. PHOTO | JOHN NJOROGE | NMG

President William Ruto’s administration has made board changes in at least 58 parastatals, replacing more than 100 appointees tapped by his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, as he seeks to assert his influence over State-backed firms and agencies.

Dr Ruto and his Cabinet secretaries have hired at least 119 chairs and directors in 58 parastatals, with the President directly appointing an estimated 53 directors, according to a review of Kenya Gazette notices since the appointments started in November.

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

Traditionally, a change in administration triggers shake-ups in parastatals as the new president and ministers move to assert their influence over government-managed firms that have previously been used as centres of patronage by their predecessors.

The next phase of hiring will seek to replace chief executives of top State-owned firms despite a majority of their contracts running up to 2024.

The terms of chief executives of the Rural Electrification Authority (REA), the Geothermal Development Corporation, the National Social Security Fund, the Kenya Railways Corporation, the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), Kenya Pipeline Corporation and KenGen have either expired or are expiring this year.

The top jobs at Kenya Power, the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), KenGen and the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company will be low-hanging fruits for new ministers.

Currently, State-owned firms do not have substantive CEOs and the positions look set to attract jostling by political and business operatives for their preferred candidates.

The hiring of preferred top executives will require friendlier boards, triggering the shake-up of directorships in the parastatals.

Among the loyalists awarded parastatal jobs are former county governors Jack Ranguma (Kisumu), Cleophas Lagat (Nandi), and John Mruttu (Taita-Taveta).

Mr Ranguma was Friday appointed the chairman of Sacco Societies Regulatory Authority while Mr Langat will head the board of Rivatex East Africa.

More than 30 people appointed to boards by Mr Kenyatta were ousted on Friday.

Former MPs tapped to chair parastatals include Daniel Rono (Kenya Medical Supplies Authority), Charles Muriuki Njagagua (Consolidated Bank), Regina Ndambuki (Tanathi Water Works Development Agency), Yusuf Chanzu (National Housing Corporation), Moses Mabonga (Insurance Regulatory Authority) and Sakwa Bunyasi (Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Board).

Before Friday’s appointments, a number of State corporation chairpersons perceived to be close to Mr Kenyatta had been replaced.

They include Francis Muthaura (Kenya Revenue Authority), Lewis Nguyai (National Health Insurance Fund), Rita Okuthe (Kenya Pipeline Company), Vienne Yeda (Kenya Power), and Gilbert Kibe (Communications Authority of Kenya).

John Ngumi also exited as chairman of Safaricom, the country’s leading telecoms company where the government holds a stake.

In 2003, then President Mwai Kibaki made radical changes on the board and C-suites of State-owned firms after ending Daniel arap Moi's 24-year rule.

The Moi era had been characterised by the intimidation of opponents, the weakening of institutions meant to keep the government in check and rampant corruption.

Mr Kenyatta also made changes in the leadership of the parastatals after coming to power in 2013.

The ethnic composition of appointments under the new administration will also come under scrutiny amid a push to ensure that offices funded by taxpayers have a face of Kenya.

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

The Public Service Commission (PSC) said in the report that Kikuyus and Kalenjins account for 29 percent and 11 percent of the 417 top jobs in government, including directors and principal secretaries respectively.

Kikuyus accounted for 27 percent of Kenya’s 66 envoys and Kalenjins 14 percent.

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.

Mr Kenyatta succeeded Mr Kibaki, both Kikuyus. Mr Moi, who ruled for 24 years before Mr Kibaki, was a Kalenjin as is Dr Ruto.

On replacing parastatal CEOs, Cabinet secretaries face a legal hitch, with a majority of executives having their contracts running up to 2024.

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

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

The law says that CEOs can only be removed from office due to absenteeism, being jailed for a term exceeding six months and prolonged sickness or mental illness.

Top executives can also resign under a rule that ministers have exploited before to force out CEOs of State-owned firms.

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

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