When high-profile public jobs have killed careers


NAIROBI, KENYA: Troubled Central Bank governor Njuguna Ndung’u finds himself in a familiar but unpleasant position that has led many to regard the job as jinxed.

In that respect, Prof Ndung’u is not alone as a host of other high-profile public jobs seem to attract the wrong kind of luck.

Ndung’u last week sought the High Court’s protection to block his arrest over a controversial tender in unfolding high profile drama familiar with several top officials, including his predecessors.

Past CBK governors Andrew Mullei, Nahashon Nyagah, Micah Cheserem, Eric Kotut and Philip Ndegwa also left the office under controversial circumstances.

But the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), National Social Security Fund (NSSF), National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), Immigration and Lands are other stations where chief executives are frequently hounded out of office.

Mullei had to battle in court to clear his name of allegations of abuse of office while Kotut was dragged through the inquiry into the Goldenberg scandal.

Nyagah resigned under a cloud following the collapse of EuroBank that sank with billions of private and public funds. Cheserem, who says he learnt of his dismissal from the media, told The Standard the office had been politicised.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the office, it’s not jinxed, but we make the same mistake during the selection process. It is too political,” said Cheserem, currently chairman of the Commission for Revenue Allocation.

award tender

“We have a problem in selecting the right people for top jobs. The focus has been on academia when we are looking for suitable people, but forget leadership qualities,” explained Mr Cheresem, who served as CBK boss for eight years.

Before his latest nightmare, Ndung’u had to fight off censure in the last Parliament over accusations he slept on the job when the Kenyan shilling went on a free-fall.

He is in trouble now because of reversing a decision by a procurement committee that awarded a tender of Sh1.2 billion to a firm.

Ndung’u’s accuser is the EACC, another institution whose leaders have never been at ease.

Mr John Harun Mwau, the founding anti-graft boss, is no stranger to the intrigues.

Appointed director of EACC’s predecessor, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (which later morphed into the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission) in December 1997, Mwau was only in office for six months. He was kicked out in 1998 through a Judicial Tribunal appointed by then President Daniel Moi.

Mullei’s exit from CBK in 2007 partly was tied to the closure of Mwau’s Charterhouse Bank.

Mwau says the problem with high office holders is “getting drunk with power” to the point of becoming demigods.

“Most people forget that they are just human when they assume big office; they start flying first class and dining in five-star hotels,” says Mwau.

“People forget the basic rules of operations and want everything done in their own way,” says Mwau, who defends his record at the then KACA as ‘stellar’ and he doesn’t understand why he got the sack.

Justice Aaron Ringera, who was appointed to replace Mwau in March 1999, had a short-lived tenure, as the High Court disbanded KACA the following year.

Ringera bounced back in 2003 as director of the renamed Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC), but resigned in 2009 after Parliament voted against his re-appointment by the then President Kibaki.

Ringera’s successor, PLO Lumumba, had a much more dramatic exit; he was sacked by Parliament on the night of August 25, 2011 when MPs passed a Bill establishing the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

Lumumba’s ejection came after his famous declaration regarding between five and ten “high voltage files”, alluding to investigations targeting four Cabinet ministers and at least 45 heads of parastatals.

corruption allegations

The current EACC boss, Mumo Matemu, assumed office with much difficulty, more than one year after the initial appointment by President Kibaki.

He had to battle a suit challenging his suitability in court.

But it is across the road from EACC’s address at Integrity Centre where the real drama in high office thrives, at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) building. So intriguing is the station that some bosses at NSSF have been in office for less than a week.

It is more than one year since its last substantive boss, Tom Odongo, was sacked over impropriety allegations. Richard Langat, the acting chief executive, is already fighting corruption allegations over the Sh5 billion Tassia infrastructure project.

Hope Mwashumbe and Alex Kazongo, a former managing trustee, too, have a tale that erringly resonates with Odongo’s stint.

Before Kazongo’s appointment, James Akeyo, Albert Odero and Fred Rabongo had held on to the hot seat, but just for days. Ms Mwashumbe had shared her frustration in heading the Sh120-billion asset-rich-NSSF in an earlier interview with The Standard.

“There are too many interests here, everyone wants to steal a share of workers’ money; it is very easy to fall out with people here,” she said after she took over after Mr Odongo’s sacking.

Not far away from NSSF building is another controversial fund, the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

Mr Richard Kerich was fired from the helm of the NHIF after he was implicated in the multi-million shilling scandal relating to civil servants medical scheme.

Kerich, who has since been barred from getting another job owing to the ongoing trial, summed up his frustration:

“I have a family who look up to me for everything; I do not have a job.”

Kerich has been charged alongside other officials on allegations of Sh116 million in losses when NHIF controversially contracted Clinix and other medical providers.