Some 18 years ago, John Paul Munge ambled into the corner office of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) on Nairobi’s Times Tower to take up his new job as Commissioner-General of the powerful and highly sensitive state agency.
He was met by the traditional trappings of power including a spacious and a well-guarded office. It had been the custom for the Commissioner-General’s office to be shielded from the prying eyes of staffers and the public.
For many years, access to the KRA corner office was highly restricted and its doors always remained firmly shut whenever Mr Munge’s predecessors were at their desks.
Mr Munge found this rather odd and so he quickly ordered for an end to this kind of “fortress” mentality.
He introduced an open-door policy when dealing with the public as well as tackling staff welfare issues.
“Unlike his predecessors who kept the public service tradition of keeping doors closed while in, he did the opposite. His doors were always open when in and closed only when he was not available,” says Kennedy Onyonyi who served as head of Corporate Affairs during Munge’s reign at KRA.
“He always used to reach out to taxpayers too, addressing their forums and pragmatically dealing with their issues”
Staff at KRA were particularly big beneficiaries of Munge’s style of management which allowed them to negotiate for better perks including improved salaries and other benefits including affordable housing and car loans. Munge also introduced full scholarship for all KRA staff who wished to pursue postgraduate studies, both locally and abroad.
“From the onset he distinguished himself as a people person. He arrived in KRA at a time when staff were grappling with two-tier salary scale arising from amalgamation of Treasury staff and private sector recruits. With a stroke of a pen, he harmonised the emoluments using KRA savings and investment proceeds,” Onyonyi notes.
Insiders at KRA described Munge as generous and never shy to spend his money. He was always at hand to assist financially distressed colleagues and friends. He also treated himself to a fine life.
Apart from his humane ways, Munge was a go-getter at work and is credited for key achievements including the creation of an agency to fight counterfeits entering the Kenyan market.
“He established the Inter-Agency Anti-Counterfeit initiative in 2001, putting in place a fully-fledged and adequately resourced secretariat at the Times Tower, which ruthlessly fought the vice. This ultimately culminated into the establishment of the Kenya Anti-Counterfeit Agency,” Onyonyi says.
Munge was also instrumental in saving the country’s sugar industry from collapse in 2001 after he helped to successfully negotiate for an extension of safeguards against cheap imports of the commodity from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).
Munge’s final moments at KRA were, however, filled with drama and controversy that eventually saw him pushed out in 2003.
The storm over his tenure came to the fore on the morning of February 2, 2003 when he made a hysterical call to his longtime friend, Joseph Kaguthi and requested for an urgent meeting.
The two friends met at a hotel in Ngara, Nairobi. Munge looked disturbed as he sat down for a chat with Mr Kaguthi.
“I hear the President might order for my arrest. I am tipped that the arrest might be effected any time between today and tomorrow. They have managed to paint me as a thief of public resources. How can you help me?” Kaguthi recalls Munge asking him.
Munge’s statement was in reference to the Euro Bank scandal that was at the time causing a political storm in the country after an audit showed the economy had lost Sh1.4 billion.
The bank collapsed, going down with money belonging to several State institutions including the National Security Social Fund (NSSF) which had deposited Sh256 million and the Kenyatta National Hospital (Sh421 million).
Dragged into the scandal
Others were the National Hospital Insurance Fund (Sh479m), Kenya Post Office Savings Bank (Sh65m) and the Kenya Sugar Board and Kenya Pipeline Company which together lost Sh110m. The Kenya Tourist Development Corporation was also a casualty, losing Sh60m.
Munge was dragged into the scandal because he previously served as a director in the bank’s board.
“I would ask you to take the heat like a man and protest your innocence by resigning. If you did that, two things will happen: You will have pulled the rag off those linking you to the scandal and two, induce a shock wave that will see a probe instituted to ascertain your culpability or otherwise in the scam,” Kaguthi remembers advising Munge.
A week after the meeting with Kaguthi, Munge had not resigned from KRA. He was later forced to quit alongside the then Central Bank Governor Nahashon Nyagah.