Governors staff purge risks taxpayer funds in costly lawsuits

From left, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko Mbuvi, Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua and Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi. PHOTOS | PHOEBE OKALL /  DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG
From left, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko Mbuvi, Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua and Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi. PHOTOS | PHOEBE OKALL / DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG 

Nearly 10 governors have announced the sacking or advertised positions of senior public servants employed by county governments, risking protracted lawsuits that could come with hefty costs to taxpayers. 

County governments are by law allowed to let go employees who are hired on contract, while governors have the leeway to drop senior advisers such as county executives who report directly to them and are ordinarily also employed on contract terms.

The governors do not, however, have the legal authority to fire public servants, whose sacking can only be initiated by the human resources (HR) departments and approved by the public service board.

“It is highly likely that the aggrieved persons will move to court, which will be a liability to the governor and to the county government since it will have financial repercussions,” said Kinuthia Wamwangi, former chairman of the now defunct Transition Authority (TA), which among other things, conducted an inventory of county staff.

The recent elections saw a change of guard in 22 of the 47 counties, meaning that the tenure of the county executive committee (CEC) members in those counties expired automatically.

The new governors and even those who were re-elected have, however, embarked on replacing senior public servants, some even based on their political affiliations.

Jobs protected by law

Kakamega, Busia and Uasin Gishu yesterday advertised the positions of county secretaries, county chief officers and county secretaries, though they have not specified whether these are additional posts or replacement of current employees.

Mr Wamwangi said holders of these positions are public servants who are protected by law.

County chief officers head departments and are the equivalent of principal secretaries in the national government.

The law requires the county Cabinet to pass a resolution for an HR audit when sacking such public servants, which is then adopted as county policy.

The HR then forwards the issue to the public service board for adoption before it is effected.

Mr Wamwangi termed retrogressive the sacking of county staff based on their perceived political affiliations.

“They should first of all understand the people and the resources within the county government to see where reforms are required,” he said.

Concerned by the ongoing wave of arbitrary sackings at the county governments, the Public Service Commission (PSC) warned that taxpayers’ money will not be used to settle costs arising from irregular decisions.

PSC chairperson Margaret Kobia reminded the county chiefs that all workers, including those on contract as casuals, have strict employment terms governed by the Constitution and the Employment Act which ought to be adhered to.


Legal costs

The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) has also threatened to move to court to bar governors from sacking workers.

“If any of the affected parties feel aggrieved, they have a right to approach the Employment and Labour Relations Court. But the first thing they need to prove is that there is actually an employer-employee relationship,” said constitutional lawyer Cliff Oduk.

If imposed on taxpayers, the legal costs will add onto the Sh2.8 billion burden that Kenyans have to shoulder as a sendoff package for the 22 former governors as prescribed in law.

There are also fears the sackings will demoralise those left behind, which could in turn affect operations of the county governments.

Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko Mbuvi is the latest entrant in the list of county chiefs effecting drastic changes after he suspended the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company board over a week-long strike by workers.

Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi sent all top officials on indefinite leave in what he said was to pave the way for a human resource and financial audit.

Those targeted by Mr Murungi included the acting county secretary, James Mutia, and all departmental chief officers.

Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua sent home all finance officers of the county.

Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru) and his Nyandarua counterpart, Francis Kimemia, have publicly warned “corrupt, lazy and inefficient staff” in their governments that their days were numbered.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago told county staff who did not support his re-election bid “to repent”, suggesting an upcoming purge.

The county has invited applicants for its 10 CEC positions as well as 16 chief officers.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya might not have made any public announcement but his government has advertised the posts of a county secretary, a deputy county secretary and 13 county chief officers.

Salim Mvurya, the Kwale governor, has advertised the positions of county executives, whose replacement is within his legal mandate.