When his obituary first appeared in the Daily Nation on Monday this week, it was just two sentences long. That seemed like too little to say about the former Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) boss in death. But there is definitely plenty to say about his life.
It would take another glance at the obituary pages to verify that indeed, Sammy Kioko Mang’eli was the person being eulogised even after a more detailed advert was published two days later on Wednesday.
Very little is in the public domain about him outside the wars he had to fight at the helm of Kebs where his three-year term was tumultuous. But anyone who interacted with him would know one thing; he loved his cigarette.
An unverified Twitter account bearing his name shows only two tweets since May, 2014, when it was opened. His photo appears on the account with nine followers and two followings. On Facebook, an account called Kioko Mang’eli bearing his photo only updated a profile picture in November, 2011. Even comments below his picture largely came from people who were asking of his whereabouts.
He may not have lived a very active life online but offline, Dr Mang’eli will be remembered by many as one of the chief executives whose stay in the corner office at Kebs was much longer than that of his predecessors and successors. He would also be remembered as a fighter who always defended what he deemed as “his rights”.
But as fate would have it, his tenure at Kebs hit a rough patch in 2009. A series of controversies touching on Dr Mang’eli finally saw him requested to leave the C-suite.
Although he faced claims of illegal hiring and graft, it was concern over his alleged falsified payslip to justify a huge salary raise that seemed to have been the final straw during his tumultuous stay at the State agency.
In 2008, then Head of Public Service, Francis Muthaura, said Dr Mang’eli, who had been earning Sh480,000 monthly, made an application to the State Corporations Advisory Committee for a salary of Sh1.07 million on the grounds that he had turned Kebs’ fortunes around.
Dr Mang’eli allegedly claimed that when he took over at Kebs in 2006, the organisation had a deficit of Sh300 million which he transformed into a surplus of Sh1.6 billion in 2007/2008.
But in a confidential brief handed to then President Kibaki and Prime minister Raila Odinga, Mr Muthaura maintained that an independent audit showed that Dr Mang’eli’s information was misleading. The report further claimed that Dr Mang’eli had continued to earn salary from his previous employer (Techno Circle Ltd), months after joining Kebs.
He was also accused of presenting a false job evaluation report to back his case for the salary increase.
When the Industrialisation ministry presented Dr Mang’eli’s application to the State Corporations Advisory Committee, which approves pay increases for parastatal heads, the request was declined on grounds that Kebs was a non-profit regulator and that the financial information used to justify the increase controverted audited accounts.
The committee then wrote to then Industrialisation permanent secretary John Lonyangapuo detailing its concerns about Dr Mang’eli’s application.
But as the committee was still scrutinising his salary slips and job evaluation report, then Industrialisation minister Henry Kosgey went ahead and not only approved a new salary of Sh1.07 million, but backdated it to September 1, 2006.
On September 12, 2009, Dr Mang’eli was given his marching orders from Kebs even though Mr Kosgey maintained he was not aware of such an action. He stayed put and demanded "formal communication" on the sacking.
His eventual exit on September 18,2009 was dramatic. A very odd press briefing was hastily arranged in the boardroom where Industrialisation Permanent Secretary John Lonyangapuo was the main speaker accompanied by the then Standard’s Board chairman, Dr Aggrey Chabeda, Dr Mang’eli, his successor Dr Kioko and board members, among other senior staff.
“Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here to witness the handing over ceremony. Dr Mang’eli’s term as the managing director of the bureau has ended and he is here to hand over,” were the PS’s words that ended Dr Mang’eli’s three-year stay at the helm.
But the outgoing MD quickly blamed his downfall on Mr Odinga whom he accused of vendetta and tribalism.
Dr Mang’eli’s tiff with him was centered on the importation of some 6,350 metric tonnes of maize from South Africa in 2009. He blamed Kebs for declaring the consignment unfit for human consumption. According to him, Kebs’ findings had been contradicted by other testing organisations such as Kephis.
“Public confidence in quality assurance institutions has been shaken by these events. The credibility of our testing institutions are in question,’’ Mr Odinga told Parliament in May, 2009.
“My exit is both political and tribal. I have been forced out by people who lost in the maize import saga,” Dr Mang’eli, however, said in response.
The former Kebs boss’s life outside Popo road corner office was not calm either. In August, 2015, he faced another allegation of using a shell company to defraud a Dubai-based firm of nearly Sh300 million.
Geo Chem Middle East was claiming Sh296 million from Kebs for unlawful termination of its inspection contract. It said Dr Mang’eli formed a company with a similar name to dupe the State into paying him the sum.