All eyes are on the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) board as it braces itself for the murky waters of recruiting the parastatal’s boss, following the ouster of former Managing Director Catherine Mturi-Wairi in May.
Early this week, KPA chairman, Rtd Gen Joseph Kibwana announced that the board was preparing to conduct interviews to replace Mrs Wairi.
But as his board begins the process, Kibwana will be at pains to navigate the potentially treacherous path of balancing the political, professional and workers’ interest in search of a substantive captain for the KPA ship.
On Saturday, the Dock Workers Union (DWU) cautioned against what it termed as a hurried recruitment exercise, saying it would derail reforms at the Port of Mombasa.
Mr Daniel Manduku’s tenure as acting MD comes to an end at the end of this month.
DWU Secretary General Simon Sang’ said Manduku’s tenure should be extended for six months to complete plans to re-introduce transshipment business.
“I can tell you that if Manduku is hurriedly removed because of political considerations, workers would down their tools,” said Sang’.
The union’s stance is symptomatic of previous recruitment troubles at the parastatal, usually characterised by intense lobbying within the political and business classes in Mombasa.
In the past, Coast politicians have demanded that the KPA MDs post and 70 per cent of the total workforce at the port be reserved for the locals.
The national government has over the years also used the post as a carrot to dangle on the face of voters who believe that if one of their own occupies the top seat, then their children would be guaranteed jobs.
The KPA Act says the managing director is appointed by the Cabinet Secretary, currently James Macharia, after consultation with the KPA board.
On July 12, 2016, Macharia appointed Mrs Wairi after she topped the three nominees whose names were forwarded.
In spite of the significance of the decision the board and the CS will make in the coming days, Kibwana exudes confidence that political and tribal forces that have in the past influenced the appointment will not sway the recruitment exercise.
“This post will be advertised in the local dailies to attract qualified and competent candidates who want to be employed as MD in the port,” Kibwana said.
After the ouster of Mrs Wairi, analysts saw Kibwana’s re-appointment as the board’s chair as a move by the government to appease the locals and pave way for an outsider to take up the MD post.
The port MD’s performance is also influenced by operations of other agencies, including the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).
A substantive MD will walk straight into administrative and efficiency issues that bogged down Wairi and led to her eventual sacking, not to mention the sibling rivalry between the port and the Kenya Railways, following the entry of the Standard Gauge Railway.
Although logistics experts say congestion has eased at the port in recent days, the movement of cargo in and out of the port will be key to the success or failure of the new boss.
Currently, container population at the port stands at about 7,000 against the 25,000 capacity.
On July 1, the KPA stopped Mombasa importers from nominating cargo to Container Freight Stations (CFS) for clearance, indicating all imports must now be cleared inside the port.
The KPA has also allowed empty containers transported from Nairobi to be stored at designated CFSs in Mombasa.
Analysts say Manduku will be facing his first real test as the government reverts to the earlier arrangement which caused the gridlock at the port.
The incoming MD will be the 15th to run the port since 1979 after the facility broke away from the East Africa Ports and Harbors following the disintegration of the EAC.
Others are John Gituma who served from November 1979 to February 1980, Jonathan Mturi (February 1980-September 1984), Phillip Okundi (September 1984-January 1993), Albert Mumba (January 1993-July 1994) and Simeon Mkalla who was MD between July 1994 and January 1996.
Mr Robert Brenneisen served as executive chairman between February 1996 to April 1997, Lennyrod Mwangola (May 1997-September 1999), Joseph Munene (September 1999-December 1999), Brown Ondego (December 1999-January 2006), Abdalla Mwaruwa (January 2006-October 2008), James Mulewa (October 2008-July 2010) and Gichiri Ndua who steered KPA from August 2010 to February 2016.