ICT and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary nominee Eliud Owalo has promised a raft of proposals to turn around State corporations under his ministry and a 100 per cent internet connectivity if approved.
Facing MPs on Friday, Mr Owalo declared his net worth as Sh645 million and was at pains to explain his Sh160 million commercial tree planting venture. Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungwa raised issue, wondering about the number of trees Owalo claimed to have planted on his over 200 acres in Siaya County.
“Simple arithmetic shows that from your submission, you average 10,000 trees per acre… which is not practical because they can not fit,” queried Ichungwa.
But Owalo said the information he provided was based on estimates by his property manager but would counter-check the same and revert to the committee. He placed the value of his two homes at Sh190m – Sh120m for Nairobi and Sh70m in Siaya.
He told the Committee on Appointments that among other things, he would revive Kenya Posta, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and re-look operations of the Government Advertising Agency (GAA). He was responding to a question by Ichungwa on the fortunes of Kenya Posta, currently plagued by losses.
“The Postal Corporation of Kenya has leased numerous of its assets to individuals. I would want to know whether you would review these leases and their benefit to the corporation. It is a corporation on its death bead, employees are going for months without pay while numerous of its assets are not getting value for it,” stated Ichungwa.
Owalo said he will implement revenue diversification mechanisms for the parastatals currently making losses, thus over-depending on State funding.
“We will get partners from the private sector to revamp the properties and increase revenue instead of selling the assets,” he said.
The economist and policy strategist also proposed a series of measures to transform the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation into the leading television station. He said he would begin with rebranding the station to meet current market standards. He held that KBC initial name, Voice of Kenya (VOK), was essential and was mulling a revert to the same. He opined that this would give the station a national outlook.
Owalo also said he was keen on leveraging on ICT to re-engineer the station’s content. “With respect to KBC, I fully agree that something needs to be done. It is ironical that KBC with its wide network of infrastructure, is today punching below its weight in the marketplace,” he remarked.
He proposed to invest in new infrastructure benchmarked from the best media houses in the world. The committee also put him to task to explain how he would have ensure top talent was recruited retained at KBC.
“Having worked at KBC, I can tell you the problem is more than rebranding. It has been rebranded so many times but there are still problems. I don’t know what different thing you would do to turn it around,” posed Samburu West MP Lesuuda Naisula.
Owalo said he would review the remuneration and conduct job evaluation. He also promised to upgrade the ICT sector and ensure a 100 per cent internet connectivity across the country.
“We will ensure there is adequate ICT infrastructure through envisaged 100km fibre optic network. We will also engage the telcos to entrench theand not be held captive by the status quo,” said Owalo.
He was responding to a query by MP David Pkosing who explained how lack network connectivity in the northern part of the country had led to a surge in insecurity. The committee also questioned Owalo on full acquisition of Telkom company by the State, as it sought to know whether it was a first of many steps towards State ownership of all telcos. This after the Treasury acquired a 60 per cent stake in Telkom Kenya from UK-based private equity fund, Helios Investment Partners, for Sh6.09b, making the company fully State-owned.
“I’m a strong believer that the work of government is to provide an enabling environment as opposed to competing with the private sector. But we also need to acknowledge that Telkom has a critical mass of strategic infrastructure that serves various facets of the Kenyan economy,” he said.
Others vetted yesterday included Mithika Linturi, Ezekiel Machogu, Ababu Namwamba and Rebecca Miano.
Sports CS nominee Namwamba said he is worth Sh425m. “This includes my residence here in Nairobi, in Busia County, a business titled Chess Bay, two land holdings, shareholdings in Safaricom, the Cooperative Bank and Kenya Power,” he said.