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Fazul: The ghost buster exorcising Jubilee’s enemies

By Daniel Wesangula | January 8th 2017
Executive Director, NGO's Co-ordination Board Fazul Mohammed addresses the media and delegates in Nairobi. Photo by WILLIS AWANDU

Every so often the Executive Director of the NGOs Coordination Board, Fazul Mohamed, springs up an uncanny surprise that rubs somebody the wrong way. It may be the Cabinet Secretary under whom he works, a colleague at the board, or a foreign envoy.

His bag of surprises is filled with hard nuts that even Cabinet Secretaries and representatives of the powerful US government find difficult to crack.

Fazul has over the past two years presided over one of the most controversial tenures at the council. And yet controversy seems to be second nature to him. Everywhere he goes, it stalks him with the stubborn verve of a smitten lover. Court injunctions and lawsuits by some of his former employees have done little to dampen his appetite for controversy. Instead, they only seem to embolden him.

His latest episode came late last year when he announced that a donor-funded elections programme, the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), was illegally operating in the country. His directive, which came in the form of a letter to USAID and copied to the Central Bank and to the Ministry of Interior, as well as to the Immigration Department, was categorical.

Frozen accounts

IFES was operating in Kenya unlawfully, the letter said. Its activities were to cease at once. All bank accounts were to be frozen and the foundation’s top officials be investigated and dealt with according to the law.

“Records held by the NGO Board show that IFES is not a registered body in Kenya and therefore lacks the legal status to operate in the country,” the letter read in part. “In addition, the section 22 (1) of cap 134 Laws of Kenya clearly outlaws and prescribes penalties and jail terms for the operation of an NGO in Kenya without registration,” the letter stated.

“We have also noted that the workers of IFES neither applied (for) nor obtained a letter of recommendation from the board to the principal immigration officer for issuance of work permit. This means that all foreigners working for IFES, including the Chief of Party, Michael Yard, are working in Kenya illegally,” Fazul added.

A day later, the US Embassy denied the contents of Fazul’s letter. Ambassador Robert Godec issued a press statement saying that IFES had for several years been a registered entity in the country. “As close friends of Kenya,” the embassy said, “Our electoral assistance is just one small part of a very much larger partnership in which we work together everyday on education, health, security, the environment, and economic development.”

It is instructive that the assault against IFES came hot on the heels of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s warning to foreign countries against “trying to influence the outcome of Kenya’s elections.”

Fazul has also recently frozen the accounts of the Evans Kidero Foundation claiming it failed to file annual returns and financial accounts. His detractors cried foul, suggesting that the NGO Board was playing politics at the behest of the Jubilee Government. They said that, being a State appointee, Fazul was making it easier for a Jubilee candidate to secure the Nairobi governorship in this year’s elections. Dr Evans Kidero, the patron of the foundation, is the sitting governor for Nairobi County. Fazul shrugged off the accusations.

It was not the first time he was facing these kinds of accusations. In 2014, he came up against the CORD political juggernaut when he deregistered the Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation, claiming it had failed to file annual returns.

During his previous stint as a director at National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada), Fazul angered manufacturers of alcoholic beverages when he drafted the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill (2010) that was enacted the same year, revoking the licences of all alcoholic drink manufacturers. He would later ban 19 flavours of shisha — a flavoured form of tobacco, usually blended with honey or other sweeteners and is smoked from a pot.

Dares anybody and everybody

Fazul’s sudden forays don’t spare anybody. He has taken on opposition leaders and powerful people in government with equal gusto. In what paints the picture of a man who wields immense power and influence, Fazul took on his boss, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, in October last year. Kiunjuri had ordered him to go on compulsory leave. The CS dissolved the NGO Board in the wake of an unmarked dossier that linked him—the CS—to a Sh20 million bribery claim.

Not one to be cowed, Fazul challenged the CS’s decision in court. “Mr Kiunjuri’s action to send me on compulsory leave and dissolve the NGO Board was illegal, unlawful, null and void. He has no powers whatsoever to sack me or appoint an acting Chief Executive Officer for the board,” said Fazul.

Sources within the ministry said CS Kiunjuri believed Fazul was fighting him. As a consequence, he fired him. Kiunjuri would later lose the battle to Fazul after the court reinstated him and restored the NGO Board. The Presidency quickly moved the board from the Devolution docket to the Ministry of Interior, effectively bringing to an end the scuffle between Kiunjuri and Fazul—at least for now.

It would later be said that Kiunjuri had underrated Fazul, not being aware of his powerful networks and their capacity take on and whitewash a CS. Interestingly, Kiunjuri would later be contradicted by his own Principal Secretary, Saitoti Torome. In his handing over letter, Torome described Fazul in glowing terms. “The COE of the NGO’s Board has been instrumental and knowledgeable in the management of the charity sector in the country and has brought sanity in an otherwise unregulated sector,” reads Torome’s letter dated November 14, 2016.

Fazul’s ascendancy to the highest position in a government body has not been without queries. In November last year, the Ombudsman’s office recommended his immediate removal from office and ordered him to refund to the government more than Sh8 million he had earned as cumulative salary.

“Fazul should not hold public office for violating Chapter Six of the Constitution of Kenya—Leadership and Integrity,” the CAJ report said. Then came the blockbuster. The CAJ accused him of presenting forged academic documents and false information during the interview for his present job. “Furthermore he has been found culpable of abuse of power and misconduct,” the report said. Two months later, Fazul still serves at the board.

In late 2014, the NGO Board was looking to fill the position of executive director. The parastatal placed advertisements in various media outlets. The perks that came with the job were good, but the qualifications were stringent. Ten years of working experience were needed. A degree was a must and a masters’ certification an added advantage.

After barely a week of vetting, the “ideal” candidate had been found. He said he had a degree from Egerton, one of the most recognised universities in Kenya. He did not have the added advantage of a master’s degree, however, nor did he have the required 10 years working experience. All the same, Fazul landed the job.

The cookie crumbles

Almost a year later his cookie began to crumble. The yarn that had been carefully spun to hold him in place slowly started to unfurl. First the degree from Egerton: A current board member said, “A number of things made us look into his past. His decision-making and handling of staff matters raised questions. Some decisions he made did not point to a person who went through four years in campus. He would bulldoze his way into board meetings, fracturing the relationships between members and attempting to orchestrate the removal of some.”

Little pointers led to big questions. According to multiple sources that we spoke to, this boiled down to questions on his academic and professional background. While he was probably admitted in Egerton University in 2007, there seem to be no records to suggest that he made it to the graduation roll. Indeed, the admission is itself in doubt. A letter from the university to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and members of the board who had questioned his qualifications reads, “This is to inform you that our records indicate that the former student’s name is Mohamed Yusuf and not Fazul Mohamed as you indicated . . . We further wish to inform you that the Mohamed Yusuf was admitted to Egerton University in 2007 as a regular student under the Joint Admissions Board to pursue a course in Bachelors of Science in Agriculture. He later changed his programme to Bachelors of Science through an inter-faculty transfer held on September 25, 2007.” The letter is dated September 10, 2015 and was signed by Prof SFO Owido, the university’s Academic Registrar.

Wearer of various hats

“We further wish to inform you that the said student was discontinued on Academic grounds in his third year of study (for failing 50 per cent or more of all credit factors taken in the ordinary examinations of one academic year) by senate on August 26, 2010.”

Some who have worked close to him say that he has many roles in  society. To some he is a Mr Fix it. If you want difficult assignments done, he will fix them for you. To others he is a merchant of information. He seems to have ready information on who is doing what where, when and why. Because of this, some believe that he is a government intelligence agent who was at some point barred from attending prayers at some of Nairobi’s mosques. Indeed, he is on record as trying to engineer a leadership coup in one mosque. When the attempt at the mosque flopped, he got embroiled in a court battle with the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims (Supkem).

Sources that are familiar with his vetting for the current job say that the qualifications were watered down to suit him. The level of experience was reduced from 10 years in a senior management position to five years. The added qualification of a master’s was done away with.

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