?Catherine Mturi Wairi’s reign as Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) managing director came to an abrupt and embarrassing end on Wednesday after the authority’s board ousted her over alleged incompetence following a series of night meetings last month which were spurred by anger from State House.
Investigations by the Sunday Standard revealed that the decision to sack Ms Wairi was reached after President Uhuru Kenyatta admonished her at a State House meeting in Nairobi on February 26.
The President was angered by the former KPA boss’s failure to dismantle a cartel frustrating movement of cargo by Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
The SGR freight services launched in January has experienced immense challenges including lack of qualified staff and equipment.
But poor yard planning at the port and at the Inland Container Depot (ICD) in Embakasi, Nairobi, has led to loss or misplacement of cargo.
Reports indicate that KPA and Kenya Railway, which runs SGR trains, have not been working together to ensure success of the freight service.
On May 23, Transport Principal Secretary Paul Maringa toured the port after the facility experienced backlog.
The next day, Kenya Railway Managing Director Atanas Maina also jetted in from Nairobi after the congestion affected more than 400 containers of export tea.
On Thursday night Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed called at the port as the situation deteriorated and joined the PS and Prof Maina to address the matter.
“For the first time since Mombasa Tea Auction Centre was set up we were looking at the possibility of not holding the weekly tea auction,” said Gilbert Langat, the Executive Officer of East Africa Shippers Council.
Mr Langat who is also a member of Mombasa PortCommunity Charter said on May 26 the port had 21,000 containers against the capacity of 25,000.
But Wairi explained that on May 26 the Industrialisation CS directed that containers be moved to the privately owned Container Freight Station (CFS).
And on May 28, East Africa Affairs and Northern Corridor CS Peter Munya also arrived at the port to assist the team to clear the backlog of more than 15,000 containers.
Surprisingly, on the same day KPA General Manager William Ruto released a statement stating that operations had normalised.
Two days later, Wairi walked into a special board meeting optimistic that the congestion would be solved. However, the board members who had earlier been on her side turned the heat on her over the matter.
Mandates be explained
During the stormy board meeting, the former KPA boss reportedly claimed she was frustrated by other state agencies operating in the port like the SGR, and walked out in protest after refusing to resign.
The board members unanimously agreed to send her on compulsory leave, effectively ending her career at the port.
She said KPA was taking all the blame while KenyaRailways Corporation (KRC) took a back seat. Wairi added that KPA had even loaned equipment to KRC to load wagons but the railway yards were empty.
“She accused KRC for not marketing the SGR. She also demanded that KPA, KRC and Kenya Revenue Authority mandates be explained to remove what she termed as misunderstanding or misconception,” said a source privy to what transpired at the meeting.
The former KPA boss also blamed the media for reporting ‘falsehoods’ that indicated chronic congestion at the port.
After criticism of going-ons at the port by State House, the board hurriedly compiled a list of 14 senior and long serving managers at the parastatal who were either transferred, demoted or asked to retire.
It has also emerged that the legality of the May 30, 2018 board meeting that kicked her out is coming into question over its quorum. The term of the board chair Major (Rtd) Marsden Madoka and four other members - Stephen Okedi, Hafswa Dele, Fred Kurai and Kennedy Ogeto (now Solicitor General) expired on April 17 for the case of the chairman and April 21 for the rest.
Despite his term having expired, Mr Ogeto attended the KPA board meeting but as a surprise alternate to Attorney General Kihara Kariuki. The bona fide alternate to the AG is Mr Alex Mbuvi, a Deputy Chief State Counsel in the AG’s office.
A similar breach obtained in the case of the designate alternate director for the Treasury Esther Koimett. Her place in the meeting that kicked out Wairi was taken by Mr Humphrey Muhu. For the Kenya Railways slot, MD Athanas Maina did not attend but he sent Mr Maxwell Megich with a letter dated same day.
For an alternate director to attend a board meeting, the concerned entity needs to be alerted at least seven days in advance. Only the term of two KPA directors is yet to expire, that of Mr Valentine Mwakamba who was appointed on December 4, 2017 and Mr Michael Maina, son of Maina Kamanda, who was appointed on December 4, 2015.
Analysts say the demotion or transfer of experienced managers by Wairi when she took over at KPA saw her reign marked by war of survival.
She relied on relatively young, inexperienced workforce to run the facility that serves the whole region.
Some employees told Sunday Standard that the ousted MD was aloof and during her reign employees’ welfare, especially those in management or job group HM4 and above worsened.
In July last year, KPA scrapped fixed allowances, which was in place for 17 years for workers in marine engineering and marine operations department who are key in the operation of the port.
Currently, there is a case in court to challenge the decision to scrap the allowance that employees say has demoralised gantry crane operators at the port leading to low productivity.
According to employees who sort anonymity gantry operators were paid Sh45,000 allowance while their colleges at the marine engineering were paid a risk allowance of up to Sh60,000.
“For some employees her sacking was a relief. The only time she visited the terminal was when the president was touring the facility,” said an employee who visited our Mombasa offices.
Critics however believe Wairi is a victim of circumstances and could be facing sabotage from powerful forces within and outside the port.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, was in March 2, after Transport CS James Macharia threatened to sack Wairi over inefficiencies of the SGR.