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Intrigues as Chumo exits Kenya Power

By Moses Michira | Published Tue, January 10th 2017 at 00:00, Updated January 9th 2017 at 23:45 GMT +3
Retired Kenya Power boss Ben Chumo

Retired Kenya Power boss Ben Chumo failed in his attempt to have his contract renewed in a seemingly terse succession at the electricity distributor.

Fresh information from multiple sources, backed by filings of an ongoing suit, lays bare a power struggle in heading the cash-rich firm. Kenya Power’s annual development budget crossed Sh50 billion last year alone – including the lucrative Last Mile Project.

Hundreds of contractors aligned to various top Government officials are jostling for various jobs in highly lucrative tenders, partly explaining why some would jump at the chance to have their man at the helm.

A letter annexed in court documents in a suit filed last year shows that the company’s board was considering Dr Chumo’s request for a second term, pending the approval of the Ministry of Energy.

Chumo’s first term as managing director of the utility firm ended last week, but  he had anticipated another term at the helm  through his application dated June 13 last year.

“The board of directors, however, resolved and directed that we seek your authorisation and clearance as the appointing authority that it can proceed to consider the application,” company chairman Kenneth Marende wrote to Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter.

Lethargic contractors

Mr Keter’s first notice on his appointment in December 2015 was to lethargic contractors in the energy sector, warning that they risked losing already awarded tenders.

Unnamed contractors had been given more tenders than they could handle, leading to massive backlog and sluggish delivery of projects – a problem that Chumo acknowledged to have impacted the firm’s role at some point.

While Mr Marende’s letter to Keter highlighted that the applicant had attained the retirement age, the board was open to waiving the requirement after approval from the CS, who is the appointing authority. That letter was received at the CS’ office on July 12, but insiders have disclosed that a decision was yet to be made when the petition was lodged in court.

And then last week, Marende laid the stage for the announcement of Kenneth Tarus as the utility firm’s acting managing director and CEO. He set ground rules that the only questions he would respond to were those relating to the handover ceremony.

He made no reference to Chumo’s prior request, and insisted that the exit was voluntary following the attainment of the retirement age.

Chumo also told the press conference that his was a voluntary exit as he handed over to his former general manager of finance.

“A second term would not have been possible even if I needed it. So I knew all the while I was going to retire at 60,” said Chumo, even though he had sought another term last June.

His three-year tenure was perhaps the most transformative for the firm as it rolled out electricity connectivity at a pace dictated by the Executive. In several instances, households, including grass-thatched ones, were connected to the national grid before the paperwork was concluded to meet the demands of the State.

Age restrictions

Okiya Omtatah, who had petitioned the court to block the board from renewing Chumo’s term based on his age, told The Standard that he had sufficient evidence that the firm had intended to retain Chumo at the helm.

Recruitment of his successor would have been started much earlier, he argued, considering the age restrictions set in law that would have barred Chumo.

The utility firm is undertaking several large projects, which has significantly raised the influence of top officers in the award of tenders.

Rapid electrification across the country is creating huge demand for supplies. For instance, the firm projects that nearly 320,000 poles will be required to complete the World Bank-funded Sh15 billion Last Mile Project.

Mr Tarus said the firm was the implementing agency for the Last Mile and street lighting projects, meaning that it manages the budgets and is responsible for the award of contracts.

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