MPs call for probe on KRA's HIV tests and skewed hiring

KRA Commissioner-General Humphrey Wattanga. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Members of Parliament want a commission of inquiry to investigate why the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) subjected job applicants to HIV and pregnancy tests and disqualified 133 of them after turning positive.

The MPs further want the commission of inquiry to investigate the skewed hiring of 1,406 revenue service assistants.

The calls for the probe are coming days after the High Court nullified the recruitment exercise conducted by the taxman last year on grounds that it was skewed in favour of two communities.

The court ruled that the taxman should have afforded adequate and equal opportunities for appointment, training and advancement at all levels to members of all ethnic groups and persons with disability.

And yesterday, the National Assembly Committee on Cohesion and Equal Opportunity said that it had established that KRA had engaged in gross violation of the Constitution in hiring of revenue service assistants and recommended a deeper probe into the issue.

KRA Commissioner-General Humphrey Wattanga appeared before the House team to answer queries relating to the hiring.

“There is no doubt that gross violation of the Constitution was conducted by KRA during the recruitment of the revenue service assistants,” said Mandera West MP Adan Haji.

Kasipul MP Ong’ondo Were said that all applicants for the revenue service assistant position had been subjected to mandatory HIV and pregnancy tests, which resulted in 133 individuals who were found to be either HIV positive or pregnant being disqualified.

“I think you should be charged for this. Didn’t your legal department advise you before hiring? How did you subject them to pregnancy and HIV tests? We need an inquiry on this,” said Mr Were.

“Those who conducted the interview should make a statement. We should also call the 133 subjected to those HIV and pregnancy tests… This matter needs time but before that, KRA should explain why we should not force them to hire the 133 with immediate effect,” he added.

Commissioner Risper Simuyu, who was part of the KRA team, however explained that the recruits were set to undergo paramilitary training with the Kenya Defense Forces for three months to prepare them for their roles as tax collection enforcers, and they were to be tested prior to their training.

“I could be wrong, but I’m told the military always does this (subjecting people to HIV and pregnancy tests) during recruitments,” said Simuyu.

Wattanga, however, said the matter was before court and begged not to comment on the same in line with the sub judice rule.

He also told the committee that despite 133 applicants being rejected on medical grounds, the doctors did not disclose to them what they were ailing from.

Nyeri Town MP Duncan Mathenge reiterated the need to treat people living with HIV with dignity and wondered why KRA, despite it not being the only organisation with enforcement officers, continued to subject the applicants to the tests.

“We should conduct a full inquiry on this organisation. The inquiry will help us cite KRA on violations against the Constitution. It is apparent from this debacle that we have rights but as long as such organisations exist, then people cannot enjoy them,” said Mathenge.

Teso North MP Oku Kaunya said “there is need for an in-depth probe into the operations of KRA so that our resolutions and proposals will serve as an example to other organisations.”  

The MPs further piled pressure on the taxman for the botched hiring of staff, seeking to know the logic behind allocating bulk of the positions to two communities.

Nominated MP Irene Mayaka emphasised that the matter could not be solved through the normal committee probes and demanded to know how 56 percent of the recruitment positions went to two communities.

The Haji-led committee also hard-pressed the Commissioner General to know why KRA had not relied on its vast tax collection network across the country when recruiting, which would ensure inclusivity and compliance to law.

In his defense, Wattanga vowed to ensure that KRA taps into its regional network during recruitment to ensure inclusion and equality.

Acknowledging that recruitments at KRA in the past have mainly been politically influenced, Wattanga submitted that his office would introduce a policy that would ensure the inclusivity and diversity of staff when hiring through the increment rule.

Haji ruled that the House team would retreat before giving further directions on the inquiry.