Poisoned chalice: Plum but career ending jobs in the public sector

Some of the state officers who have been removed in office dure to graft accussations. [File, Standard]

Some senior positions in the parastatal sector are a poisoned chalice and taking them is tantamount to signing a career death warrant contract, an experience that may haunt the job occupant for a lifetime.

Some are shunted out of office through picketing, mass demonstrations and witch hunt while others spend years trooping to court over corruption charges while hiding their faces from shame during long drawn hearing sessions.

That is because the fate of those senior officers has over the years been determined either by the politics of the day or the grand corruption associated with the tempting large budgets allocated to those institutions.

Notable organisations that have killed many careers include the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA), National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC).

There are also Kenya Power, National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), the National Land Commission, Kenya Airports Authority and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).

It is very predictable that managers who take up jobs in these entities end up either getting sacked or haunted out of office for not being politically correct, making independent decisions against one party or the other or working with cartels to enrich themselves from public coffers.

Some therefore end up being prosecuted for engaging in grand corruption or paying for sins committed by corrupt junior officers but that has not deterred the sleaze that continues unabated in those organisations.

Straight talking former IEBC chairman Ahmed Isaack Hassan who is marketing his book “Referee of a Dirty Ugly Game” is a victim who was haunted out of office through vicious political witch-hunt and mob lynching.

“Careers and livelihoods have been destroyed because of politics by politicians who only care about their own political interests in every election,” says Hassan.

His team also came under sustained ferocious assault and was thereafter kicked out of office when they declared President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee party winners of the 2013 presidential election.

They suffered the ignominy of being labeled corrupt and incompetent through mass demonstrations at the IEBC offices by opposition mobs led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga dubbed ‘Tear gas Monday” eventually forcing all commissioners to resign.

The same fate befell the commission that took over led by chairman Wafula Chebukati, leading to the resignation of six commissioners in 2018 after the 2017 polls.

More political meddling followed in 2022 after three commissioners, including vice chair Juliana Cherera resigned, one was sacked and three others including chairman Chebukati retired creating the vacuum that is now in the process of being filled at IEBC.

“I was surprised to see people applying to be commissioners at IEBC when I was leaving office because I thought they did not know what they wanted to get into,” says Hassan.

The EACC also went through turbulent times until recently when it appeared to have stabilised, largely because it could have stopped snooping on usage of CDF funds and mileage allowances by MPs from both houses of parliament.

But earlier in 2011, MPs ganged up to unceremoniously kick prominent lawyer PLO Lumumba who was the Director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) and his team out of office. The MPs from both the government and opposition sides spoke with one voice in Parliament, accusing KACC of hounding MPs over CDF expenditure under the guise of investigating graft and thereafter removed PLO and his entire team from office.

“It is sad for this country if the people who are given the job of fighting corruption can go around to look for money from us yet they have the biggest salaries,” lamented Ayiecho Olweny, who was an assistant minister.

Cabinet Ministers and MPs joined hands in condemning the KACC, with the then Minister for Transport Amos Kimunya arguing that the commission had failed in its mandate and it was no longer tenable to continue paying its officers hefty salaries.

The momentum to get PLO out of Integrity Centre was also driven by the anger MPs had against him for allegedly exposing them to public ridicule.

They complained that he had turned the anti-graft searchlight on their colleagues and also feared he would deny many of them clearance certificates to run for re-election in 2013 because of the CDF graft cases.

And so they quickly processed the EACC Bill proposed in the 2010 Constitution to replace KACC and again as happened at IEBC voted to send home almost all employees, creating a lot of layoffs at the commission.

During debate in Parliament, the MPs opposed amendments that could have given the head of the new anti-graft body security of tenure just like the Chief Justice and Director of Public Prosecutions.

It turned out the MPs opposed the amendment because they wanted a CEO against whose head they could hold a gun on for blackmail rather than having an independent person with authority to make tough decisions.

Another Cabinet minister Sam Ongeri, who at the time was also a subject of investigations by KACC over millions of shillings meant free primary education, said: “You cannot give somebody the opportunity to investigate, prosecute and the next thing is to pronounce judgment on you.”

But it is at KEMSA that the corruption dragon keeps consuming top officials at an alarming rate from as way back as 1974 when President Jomo Kenyatta ordered the arrest and prosecution of Zachariah Shimechero who was in charge of the Central Medical Stores.

Until 1974, Shimechero, who later became a large scale farmer in Trans Nzoia, was said to have been leaking medical supply tender quotations to Anpi Pharma, a company owned by a Nairobi Asian businessman or its affiliate companies for bribes.

In 2020, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe told a Covid-19 press briefing that Afya House had its fair share of cartels that were involved in the siphoning of money meant for critical supplies.

At least 15 top government officials and businesspeople were investigated over the alleged misuse of millions of dollars of donor money that was meant for buying Covid-19 medical supplies, a probe that uncovered evidence of tenders that were given to politically connected tenderpreneurs.

The EACC then began investigating graft at KEMSA that year over the procurement and supply of Covid-19 equipment, citing an irregular expenditure of Sh7.8 billion, as the ministry of Health ordered mass sacking of staff at the agency.

Under Kagwe, the State Corporations Advisory Committee (SCAC) also recommended the sacking of nearly half the agency’s workforce while many more were ordered to work from home, a directive that was overturned by the current CS Susan Nakhumicha last week.

“We will not entertain people stealing money that is supposed to be used in providing health facilities for poor Kenyans. I will not rest until all the rot at KEMSA is cleared,” said the tough talking CS.

That said, KEMSA is again reeling under another major scandal over the tendering of donor funded malaria control mosquito nets leading to the sacking of Public Helath PS Josephine Mburu and transfer of PS Peter Tum as well as sacking of the entire board and suspension of the CEO Terry Ramadhani by President William Ruto.

At KEBS, Managing Director Bernard Njiraini was among 27 government officials suspended over release of 20,000 bags of contaminated sugar from a warehouse in Thika.

At NHIF, the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji recently withdrew graft charges against former chief executive officer Geoffrey Mwangi, after his application do so was allowed by the High Court.

The former chief executive had been charged with authorising payment of over Sh253 million to Web Tribe Ltd and extending the contract of the company that was contracted to collect payments on behalf of NHIF allegedly leading to the loss of funds.

Earlier, a former NSSF investment manager and three stock dealers were charged with conspiracy to defraud the fund of Sh1.4 billion through a collapsed stockbroker.

Francis Zuriels Moturi, the ex-NSSF investment manager, was accused alongside David Ndirangu Githaiga, a former executive director of the defunct Discount Securities Ltd (DSL), its ex-finance director Wilfred Mungoro and Isaac Nyakundi, a former investments manager.

In that case, the court acquitted former NSSF general manager in charge of finance and investments James Akoya, Mary Ndirangu, the fund’s former internal audit manager and a company known as Orchard Estates Ltd.

Cases against former Kenya Power managing director Ben Chumo and 10 others were also dropped by Haji recently after police allegedly failed to conduct proper investigations

He was charged in 2018 together with his successor Ken Tarus, Beatrice Meso, K.P Mungai, Joshua Mutua, Abubakar Swaleh, Samuel Ndirangu, Stanley Mutwiri, Benson Muriithi, Peter Mwicigi and John Ombui, over failure to comply with procurement laws among other claims in the purchase of transformers worth Sh400 million. 

In 2019, the then NLC boss Prof Mohammed Abdala Swazuri and 16 others were charged in an Anti-Corruption Commission court with causing a loss of public funds.