Former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya’s decision to dismiss Catherine Gathoni as the Secretary and CEO of the County Public Service Board (CPSB) has returned to haunt the board members.
Their jobs now hang in the balance after a petition was filed at the County Assembly of Kakamega seeking their removal from office based on Mr Oparanya's decision.
The members include Catherine Omweno (chairperson), Ambrose Subayi (vice-chairperson), Joel Omukoko, Dr Ralph Wangatiah, Stanley Were and Sylvia Otunga.
Oparanya dismissed Ms Gathoni after discovering that she was still employed as an accountant by the County Government of Nakuru while simultaneously serving as the chief executive of the Kakamega CPSB.
"You were appointed to the post of secretary of the service board with effect from July 15, 2020, on a six-year non-renewable contract,” states Oparanya to Gathoni in a letter dated October 19, 2021.
The letter further reads: “In the course of your engagement, it came to our attention that you were still on the payroll of Nakuru County, until May 2021, when you ought to have delinked from them immediately after you took up the appointment with Kakamega County Public Service Board.
"We received a letter from the chairman of Nakuru County Public Service Board on July 7, 2021, informing us of their decision to release you on secondment to Kakamega for a period of three years."
The former governor told Gathoni that the letter from Nakuru CPSB “fundamentally varies the terms of your contract and it’s not acceptable.”
Oparanya further noted in the letter that Gathoni had a "strained working relationship with board members" that affected service delivery.
"For these reasons, your contract is hereby terminated and you are released to return to Nakuru with immediate effect,” the letter states.
Aggrieved by the sacking, Gathoni later requested a review of her dismissal from the Public Service Commission (PSC), which overturned Oparanya's decision to terminate her employment.
“The decision by the County Government of Kakamega to terminate the respondent’s appointment communicated via letter dated October 19, 2021, is hereby quashed,” states a letter by PSC Deputy Commission Secretary Remmy Mulati, dated on September 7, 2022.
The letter further reads: “The County Government of Kakamega is directed to reinstate the respondent (Gathoni) as the secretary of the County Public Service Board."
Governor Fernandes Barasa reinstated Gathoni in a letter dated November 4, 2022.
“In line with the decision of the Public Service Commission delivered on September 7, 2022, in an application for review of your dismissal, the Kakamega County Public Service Board has reinstated (you) and the termination letter dated October 19, 2021, is hereby vacated,” Governor Barasa’s letter reads.
It adds: “By a copy of this letter, you are advised to resume your duties no later than November 11, 2022.”
It is Oparanya’s decision that has put the heads of the board members on the chopping board after a third petition seeking their removal from office was lodged at the County Assembly on October 12 with the hearing slated to begin today.
Oparanya’s name has since been expunged from the petition after amendments were made to it.
The County Assembly Public Service and Administration Committee under the chairmanship of Marama South Ward Rep Willis Opuka was expected to commence hearing a petition filed by Dennis Muhanda but the session failed to kick off Wednesday as earlier planned.
Other charges levelled against the board members include serious violation of the Constitution, violation of Chapter 6 of the Constitution, breach of statute law, abuse of office, gross misconduct, conflict of interest and incompetence.
The petitioner has also accused the board of employing people with questionable academic qualifications and hiring 400 revenue clerks and 74 revenue officers without the approval of the cabinet.
“That the members, without any colour of right, legal basis, power and jurisdiction, jointly conspired to and purported to dismiss one, Catherine Gathoni Otenyo from office as a member of the Kakamega County Public Service Board,”
“They (board members) jointly conspired and purported to exercise a power which they did not have by purporting to exercise disciplinary power over a fellow member, the power which was not conferred on them and are therefore unfit and unsuitable to continue serving in office to hold any public office,” reads the petition in part.
Mr Muhanda avers that the board members "constituted themselves into a quasi-judicial and administrative body" and "did not accord a hearing" to Gathoni before her removal from office.
“The members took the law in their own hands and with nothing but the raw exercise of power and impunity removed Gathoni from office in exercise of non-existent power,” the petition states.
A member of the board who sought anonymity told The Standard that Gathoni was not sent packing as a disciplinary matter but a variance in the contract period and the fact of being a public officer and not resigning from the county government of Nakuru.
“She was called into a meeting with former Governor, Oparanya who advised her (Gathoni) to resign as an employee of Nakuru County but she did not. Her refusal to comply resulted in her being released back to Nakuru,” said the board member.