Uhuru Kenyatta’s principal secretary nominee caught in varsity scandals

Principal Secretary nominee Prof Japhet Ntiba Micheni.
By Paul Wafula and David Odongo

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Kenya: A principal secretary nominee is at the centre of a major university scandal in which hundreds of students obtained degrees in dubious circumstances.

The nominee, Prof Japhet Ntiba Micheni, has been council chairman of the Presbyterian University of East Africa (PUEA), which has been hit by a series of fi nancial, management and academic scandals.

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Micheni, who will this week go before the parliamentary vetting committee to seek clearance as Principal Secretary for Fisheries, faces an uphill task if submissions against him are anything to go by.

He also faces several court cases relating to the hiring and fi ring of staff while the university is defending suits by suppliers and contractors over claims running into hundreds of millions of shillings.

During a court appearance last Wednesday to defend a case brought against him by a former member of staff, the professor sought to have the claim settled out of court.

But the most damaging of the allegations against him is that, under his watch, students were granted degrees with cooked-up results whenever unpaid lecturers withheld results.  

Details have emerged that implicate the office of the registrar at Presbyterian University with forging results for students. Some have gone on to graduate.

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With no results to help assess how students perform in order to promote them to the next semester, the office of the registrar has resorted to awarding marks to students at random in the courses taught by part time lectures, a member of staff at the university reveals.

Withhold the results

“The students just see their marks but they don’t get back their exam papers. All part time lecturers haven’t been paid for two years now, and some continue teaching. They give exams but they withhold the results. They did this thinking they could cripple the university graduation last year, but were shocked when all the students graduated, yet the lecturers hadn’t submitted the results for most of the tests unless they were paid.”

Another lecturer, who has since left, confirms that the forgery of results has been going on at the institution. 

“The batch that graduated in 2012 September were being given transcripts every semester, yet we were holding their results. The awarding of results is done at the registrar’s office, and we know the university council chairman Prof Ntiba Micheni is fully aware because we have sent him emails which he neither acknowledged nor replied to,” says a lecturer who reveals he has withheld results for two semesters yet students still receive transcripts.

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It is understood that the university owes the part-time lecturers about Sh50 million.

“Some of us are shocked to realise that some students got their results and graduated even when they had not released them over pay. We don’t know where the students got those results,” a former lecturer told the Standard.

According to a memorandum seen by The Standard that has been forwarded to both the office of the President and the anti-corruption watchdog, Micheni is accused of presiding over a university that has virtually broken all the guidelines of running an institution of higher learning.

It comes as no surprise that PUEA is dealing with numerous court cases, some of which have already been determined, ranging from wrongful termination of employees to offering unaccredited courses.

Among those sacked is its former Vice Chancellor, Prof Kihumbu Thairu, whose contract was terminated under unclear circumstances. He has taken the university to court

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 There is also the case of a senior lecturer in the School of Law who was also forced to resign after being threatened for “gossiping” about management.

It is also facing suits from Dr Mungai Andrew Gichuho, its former ICT director, for wrongful termination. It is also facing a suit from Stephen Ochieng at the Chief Magistrate’s Court as well as Cecilia Martha Njeri at the Industrial Court.

The university is facing claims for unlawful cancellation of a number of supplier/contractor contracts. It is facing a suit by Elsek & Elsek Construction Limited in Case 482 of 2011 at the High Court of Kenya for cancelling a Sh226 million contact for the construction work he had done at the learning institution under a build operate and transfer (BOT) arrangement. 

   The mismanagement of the university has seen many students exit the college. Enrollment has dropped from over 2,000 two years ago to about 500 currently.

This has pushed the university into financial distress due to debts to its staff and contactors. It is also facing an avalanche of court cases from its former lecturers for unlawful dismissal and its contractors for contract termination.

The university has also been unable to develop degree programmes on its own, relying on collaboration from established universities. About eight of the courses that the university is teaching are from collaboration with Kenyatta University.

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Uhuru Kenyatta principal secretary Prof Japhet Ntiba Micheni