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Failed hiring, messed firing

BUSINESS
By | September 20th 2009

By Edward Oyugi

What the country has witnessed in the last week regarding the re-appointment of three top officials at the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) and the attempted retirement ‘in public interest’ of the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) is a testimony of how low we have sunk in ethnicisation of public offices.

Woe unto those professionals who do not have kinsmen of substance in high echelons of politics.

In the re-appointment of Aaron Ringera and his two deputies, the matter at hand was whether the President, in exercise of powers conferred on him by the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act 2003, followed the law.

Even though the competence of the commission was raised, this was not the main issue of contest. Indeed, had the law been followed the KACC Advisory Board would have interrogated this and made its recommendations to Parliament accordingly. But the circus turned out to a public relations fiasco — the so-called Gema community and their strategic allies in the PNU coalition versus the rest of Kenyans.

I thought we became wiser after the senseless slaughters of last year. As the KACC matter is all in the public domain, I’ll address the issue of Kebs. In the matter of Mang’eli, there were issues of procedure, integrity and competence. Once again, we saw ethnic roll call and blackmail.

Yet again, substance was sent on compulsory leave and the sideshows took a centre stage in a Parliament that was briefly turned into a staged display of crass ethnic partisanship. The plebiscitary distortion of parliamentary publicity was as real as it crowded out democratic discipline.

To be sure if the public is to benefit from the open proceedings of Parliament, what must be avoided is turning parliamentary documentation (and not discussion) of tribally haggled out resolutions into party grandstanding or criminal trials into show trials for consumers who, strictly speaking, are not amused.

Like KACC, the Kebs is a critical agency. It protects the public against substandard and harmful products. It also ensures that the consumers get their money’s worth.

So if it is indeed true that the Office of the Prime Minister unduly influenced the Head of Public Service to retire Mang’eli based on nothing but vendetta, then it must stand condemned. But this must be demonstrated beyond doubt.

Starting with procedure, we may ask: How was Mang’eli hired?

Just like the case of KACC, the Managing Director of Kebs has to be appointed by the minister for the time being in charge following a competitive recruitment conducted by the National Standards Council.

Was this followed when Mang’eli was initially hired? Available information flies in the face of this requirement. On the matter of integrity, a report, Office of the President – Report on Investigation into Managerial Improprieties at the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) by the Inspectorate of State Corporations dated September 2007, mercilessly pounds the management of Kebs in general and Mang’eli in particular.

Mang’eli is held culpable in particular in the matter where there was an attempt to defraud the Bureau of some Sh33.8 million.

The report reads: "A copy of a letter Ref. KBS/CFC BANK/FX/07 dated March 16, 2007, indicates that the Financial Controller of Kebs, Mrs Joyce Kamau and the Chief Executive Officer Dr Kioko Mang’eli sent a requisition to CFC Bank Ltd, for the purchase of USD 486,634.09 (equivalent of KShs 33,860,000.00). The currency was to be remitted to the aforementioned account (see Annex II). Attached to the requisition note was the corporation’s cheque No.114404 for Shs33,860,000.00 drawn for their National Bank of Kenya Account." Minutes to midnight

The report further says that the letter to the Manager CFC Bank Ltd. From KEBS was "dated 16th March, 2007 whereas the fax date appearing on the letter is dated 16th February, 2007" and that the proforma invoice No. K61349A is dated March 26, 2007, whereas the fax appearing on the same fax is dated February 16, 2007.

The two faxes appear to have been relayed to CFC Bank at 11:26 pm, 34 minutes to midnight.

The report goes ahead to question why Kebs had to purchase foreign currency from CFC Bank while NBK also deals in foreign currency and notes that KEBS had no offshore bank account and therefore the account to which the US dollars were to be remitted was not a Kebs account. In its conclusions and recommendations, the report notes that, "besides the suspended officials, both Mang’eli and Mr John Wepukhulu, who are implicated are still working."

The Inspectorate of State Corporations goes ahead to recommend disciplinary action. There was another attempted fraud of Sh1.2 million – again with no disciplinary action taken.

The Kebs MD is also accused by the report of having employed some 54 staff irregularly and in non-established positions. Further he was accused of ineptitude in a case involving testing and quality inspection of wood poles for power transmission imported from Finland.

There are also copies of petitions from the industry, notably the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance to both the President and Prime Minister against Kebs in general and Mang’eli in particular.

A letter dated December 1, 2008 (Ref. 764/AML/1) from Aurelio R Rebelo Advocate on behalf of Alfa Motors, Unitrackworld, and Bhogals Autoworld to Kebs, also complains of unlawful raids on their premises by the Kebs CEO in the company of gun-wielding persons and in the presence of an Assistant Minister whose docket bears no relation with Kebs’ mandate. It later transpired that the politician had bought a vehicle from one of these companies and was unable or unwilling to service the loan. It is true that Mang’eli did stand up against the Office of the PM over the so-called bad maize saga. Without going to merits of his case, this in my view is commendable — and we should see more of this from public officials when they are convinced they are right.

Such civil courage can, however turn into hired grandstanding and therefore counterproductive if the underlying motive is to do the hatchet job for the political dark horses.

The late Nigerian academic, Claude Ake, talks about two publics in Africa. The first public comprises our families, clans and ethnic communities while the second public is the nation state.

While we agree in the second public that corruption is bad, we cherish and defend it when a member of our first public perpetrates it.

Kenyans have a choice to stand for the nation (second public) or their sectarian interests.

The gradual retreat into our ethnic tents may soon rob us Kenya as a platform on which we stand awkwardly to flaunt our ethnic bigotry.

Prof Oyugi is a university lecturer and director of Social Development Network.

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