At Kenya Power, ex-chief executive Ben Chumo is regarded as smart worker who rose from a lowly human resources officer, to the apex of corporate leadership,
In the murky world of State Corporation politics, however, he comes across as a rather ‘too trusting’ person who fails to see around corners and a victim of fate all rolled into one.
He may have enjoyed a relatively quiet year since his sudden exit from Kenya Power in January last year but, Dr Chumo is back in public glare, thanks to a seemingly monumental error of judgement.
It all started on June 27 when the Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi announced to MPs that Dr Chumo had been nominated by President Uhuru Kenyatta for the position of chairperson of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).
While it should take a great deal of caution to navigate political landmines and secure a plum job of the nature, Dr Chumo apparently ignored the warning shots.
The departmental committee on finance and national planning, chaired by Kipkelion East MP Joseph Limo, was supposed to have vetted him by July 11, but asked for a 14-day extension.
Days later, detectives raided his compound on Saturday July 14 on graft claims, making him a household name after nearly every news outlet in Kenya splashed his pictures. He subsequently appeared in court two days later to answer to the charges.
In a normal case, a President’s nominee would not be an easy target for anti-graft officers. Yet the former Kenya Power boss ignored the signal and showed up in Parliament on July 23 to be vetted by MPs. The MPs committee would later rule that he could have requested for the postponement of the vetting date until he is cleared of the corruption charges.
“Based on his performance during the vetting, the Committee found the nominee to have a wealth of experience on management and Human Resource matters,” the committee states in its report.
“Section 62 of the Anti-corruption and Economic Crimes Act requires that a public officer who has been charged with corruption or economic crimes should be suspended. Therefore, the nominee if approved, would find it difficult to take up the position.”
Dr Chumo had obviously not seen it that way on Monday morning as he showed up in Parliament Buildings. Wearing a grey suit, stripped sky-blue shirt and maroon tie, he easily extended a wide smile as he exchanged niceties with people along the corridors.
He kept his cool as cameras rolled and snapped away outside Committee Room 7 where the MPs had kept him as they held an in-house meeting, presumably to decide whether to proceed with the vetting.
A moment of tension momentarily swept through the committee when the 62 year-old technocrat was finally ushered into the room. Then the barrage of questions.
“I have never had any challenge that undermines my integrity other than what is currently in the public domain. This should not be used to deny me this opportunity at the SRC since I am innocent until proven guilty,” said Dr Chumo.
The MPs somehow concurred when they noted the public filed no complaint against Dr Chumo when they were invited to give their views. His fate was sealed on Wednesday when the committee report questioning his integrity was adopted at plenary by the National Assembly.
That’s just about Dr Chumo, a man who doesn’t mind appearing aloof in the court of public opinion. Born on July 11, 1956, he would not readily step down when his age reached 60 years in 2016 despite a general sentiment in the energy sector that time was ripe for a successor.
That’s how activist Okiya Omtatah moved to court in an attempt to force him out with Judge Nelson Abuodha eventually issuing temporary orders stopping renewal of his tenure.
He claims to have amassed Sh212 million in personal wealth. “I can’t say I’m a rich man, in relative terms of course. I’ve not yet reached there. I can support my family. My four children; two of them are already out of the house, two are still in college,” he said during his vetting.
At the time of exiting Kenya Power, Dr Chumo said he had made up his mind to retire into lecturing at the university.
He holds a doctoral degree in Human Resource management from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
He told MPs: “Electricity connections doubled to 5.55 million customers and industries as at December 2016 from 2.3 million customers in 2013 when I took office. This is what I am very proud about; enhancing connectivity.”