A soft-spoken and affable Mary Walingo cuts an image of a religious soul and stickler for rules going by attestation by several people who have interacted her both in her personal and official capacity.
And so when the embattled vice-chancellor of Maasai Mara University appeared before a Nakuru court on Wednesday, charged with misappropriation of public funds, some remained caught in disbelief.
In her private life, Prof Walingo, an expert in nutrition, loves engaging in Bible studies and religious exchanges with friends.
In fact, when asked about the secret to her success during a TV interview a few months ago, she curtly replied: “The secret is Christ. I draw strength from the Bible because it says, those who wait upon the Lord shall be strengthened.”
She, however, cautioned against over-indulgence and preached the gospel of doing what is right.
So when she was arraigned over charges of conspiracy to misappropriate Sh177,007,754 from the university, it was a shocker to many.
She was charged together with her deputies Simon Kasaine ole Sano (Administration, Finance and Planning) and John Almadi Obere (Academic and Student Affairs) and Finance Officer Anaclet Biket Okumu and her driver Noor Hassan Abdi.
Prof Walingo was charged after months of investigations, following an exposé in which she and senior officials in the accounts department at Maasai Mara University, were accused of embezzling funds. She was sent on compulsory leave in September 2019 after she was implicated in an intricate corruption network.
The matter was later investigated by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the files forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
It took several months for the DPP to review of the file and perhaps many thought that the matter had been forgotten until this week when DPP Noordin Haji directed her arrest and sanctioned the charges against her.
According to the DPP, there was systematic misappropriation of funds from the university and it was in the public interest for her and her alleged accomplices to be charged.
Mr Haji revealed that between 2016 and 2019, several cheques were used to irregularly withdraw the money from the institution’s accounts, for personal use. He said there was no justification for the withdrawals as well as supporting documents for the expenditure.
On Wednesday, the five were charged before a Nakuru court with corruption-related charges. The court heard that they conspired to misappropriate Sh177,007,754 from the university on diverse dates between January 24, 2016, and July 19, 2019.
Prof Walingo faced four other separate counts of abuse of office and willful failure to comply with the law relating to the management of public funds.
According to the prosecution, Prof Walingo authorised the expenditure of Sh176 million and Sh82 million held at the universities bank accounts at Barclays, Equity, Cooperative and National banks without supportive documents.
Ms Biket, the finance officer, faced two separate counts of fraudulent false accounting.
Prof Walingo has a rich curriculum vitae. She was the first top female scientist to be honoured by President Uhuru Kenyatta with an Elder of Burning Spear (second class) in 2013.
She is among a handful of pioneer women academicians leading Kenyan public universities and thinks that many women do not achieve such feats because they fear applying for such positions.
In the interview, Prof Walingo, who served at Maseno Unversity before joining Maasai Mara, believes that the universities that are thriving in the country are led by women. She cited Kenyatta University, which achieved so much under the leadership of Prof Olive Mugenda.
She too had a great vision for Maasai Mara. Before the scandal was blown up, Prof Walingo was planning to erect a Sh1.2 billion herbal factory at the institution, which would not only train students but also manufacture herbal medicine for sale.
Prof Walingo believed that the changes after taking the leadership at the institution were the reason it started attracting top academicians.
At Maseno University, she was the director of the city campus and is credited for the increase in the institution’s revenue collection.
She also takes credit for developing functional student and financial record system which created efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction.
Prof Walingo has published widely- in peer-reviewed journals and books and a journal reviewer.