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Graft purge triggers fresh succession wars in State corporations

Joe Sang Ken Tarus Geoffrey Mwangi
From left, Mr Joe Sang (KPC), Ken Tarus (Kenya Power) and Geoffrey Mwangi (NHIF). PHOTOS | FILE 

The ongoing fight against corruption has created a number of high-profile public sector job vacancies, laying the ground for bruising battles to fill them.

At least eight big State corporations have lost their chief executives to the anti-corruption war in the past five months, leaving the task of replacing them to the boards of directors.

The Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC), whose former managing director Joe Sang was on Monday charged with multiple corruption-related offences, tops the list of State firms that have begun the search for a new leadership under the watchful eyes of the executive.

KPC chairman John Ngumi told the Business Daily that Mr Sang had backed out of the job even before the board started evaluating his request for a second term in the high-voltage office.

“The transition could mean getting a CEO faster than we had thought,” said Mr Ngumi, who announced Mr Sang’s exit from the oil firm two days before the former executive was arrested.

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Decapitated

The list of State corporations that have been decapitated by the war on corruption or end-of-term exits includes electricity distributor Kenya Power #ticker:KPLC, the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), the National Land Commission (NLC), the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS), the Kenya Forest Services (KFS), Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

Mr Ngumi said a time had come for the government to consider exempting some of the key parastatals from the State Corporations Act to afford them some degree of management independence. Lack of independence has exposed the State firms to interference from multiple quarters, including Parliament and line ministries when key decisions such as hiring top management are made.

“They have a duty to oversight us on behalf of Kenyans. The issue, however, is how the oversight happens. There is no reason we can’t have a free hand to operate,” he said.
NHIF chief executive Geoffrey Mwangi and 17 members of his staff are facing multiple charges, including abuse of office, in a move that has nearly cleared the organisation’s top management.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu-K) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli appeared to agree with Mr Ngumi in his assessment that the NHIF board had constantly been subjected to acute forms of political interference.

“The board wants me far away so as to pick a CEO it can arm-twist. I had cautioned Mr Mwangi to keep off politicians when he took charge at NHIF because they are hawkers with no permanent address,” Mr Atwoli said of the embattled NHIF CEO.

Battle

The battle for top jobs is also raging at Kenya Power where nine managers, including former managing director Ken Tarus, have been ousted from office and are facing multiple corruption charges.

Succession intrigues have continued to multiply in recent weeks and the corporation’s chairman, Mahboub Maalim Mohamed, has suggested a possible restructuring of senior management to cut the number of departments from 13 to just five.

“Many of us may not envisage what a corporate can go through when you have nine of your decision-making team vacate office at once,” acting CEO Jared Othieno said during last month’s release of Kenya Power’s annual results.

At the NCPB, the controversy over the irregular purchase of maize and fertiliser saw key officials, including former managing director Newton Terer, arrested and charged in court. Fifteen other senior officials have also been linked to the scam.

The KFS is also embroiled in a investigation to establish how a Sh2 billion programme for greening public schools failed to achieve its purpose. KFS board chairperson Peter Kinyua has appointed Monica Kalenda as acting chief forest conservator, taking over from Emilio Mugo, who was suspended to pave the way for investigations.

Thomas Mutie currently heads KNH in an acting capacity after former CEO Lily Koros was sent on compulsory leave following a mix-up that saw doctors operate the wrong patient.
Dr Mutie’s appointment came after John Ong’ech turned down the job citing political interference.

“This is a job of managing a budget of almost Sh15 billion per year and 4,000 staff. It also has unlimited access to power and influence,” Dr Ong'ech told the Nation in March as he declined the offer.

The NLC, whose chairman Muhammad Swazuri was sent on leave and his position given to Abigael Mukolwe in acting capacity, faces the same fate. Dr Swazuri has, however, obtained a court order allowing him to take back his office, despite spirited efforts by the Director of Public Prosecutions to keep him out.

The NLC’s predicament is similar to those of other State firms where court battles and vested interests have stalled the replacement of senior executives.

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