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Sh15b laptop budget fuels power struggle war at the Rural Electrification Authority

By TIMOTHY MACHI

Kenya: A power struggle has erupted at a parastatal that will manage Sh15.5 billion set aside for the implementation of the grand laptop project.

The tug-of-war at the Rural Electrification Authority (REA), which was allocated the billions to light up 12,000 schools, pits the managing director against the board of directors.

On Tuesday, the REA board announced the appointment of Mr Ng’ang’a Munyu as acting chief executive in a press statement to newsrooms expected to bring to an end Mr Zachary Ayieko’s tenure at the agency.

Significantly, Ayieko was last month appointed to sit on a seven-member laptop implementation committee to draw a roadmap on the implementation of President Kenyatta’s pet project.

By virtue of his position, he was detailed to write a paper including timelines on how REA would ensure the 12,000 primary schools without electricity were connected to the national grid ahead of the laptop rollout.

But the board statement appeared to end any hopes of his long-term involvement: “Mr Munyu, who has been the Authority’s General Manager and Head of Corporate Planning, replaces Mr Zachary Ayieko whose contract is set to expire on August 30, 2013.”

The move effectively spelled the end of Ayieko’s tenure at the utility firm in what sources link to the battle for control of the billions allocated in the June budget.

While the board statement said Ayieko had chosen not to seek renewal of his contract, other sources privy to the goings-on at the parastatal told The Standard that he had actually expressed interest in having his contract renewed and only changed his mind when the board seemed to be casting their recruitment net beyond him.

In a further sign of discord, there have been several aborted attempts at getting Ayieko to hand over to the acting head.

A handing-over ceremony planned for last week failed to take off as Ayieko, who is winding up his second term as MD, failed to show up.

A board member dispatched to supervise the handover, named only as Githu, was kept waiting with no official word from the outgoing chief executive.

The latest handover, which was planned for Tuesday July 2 — the same day the new chief executive, was detailed to take over the office — also aborted as Ayieko walked in and out of office without uttering a word.

The import of this is that Munyu has taken over office without the requisite handover notes including one crucial document that is said to be key to who finally holds that office in substantive terms.

The laptop project committee report says its implementation will track the electricity grid with pupils in primary school already serviced with electricity getting laptops first — thrusting REA to the critical focus in the whole laptop project.

But it is the same report that is now cause for unease at the parastatal with the new management and board saying they should be allowed to draw their own timelines if they should be held responsible.

A source familiar with sentiments of management and the board says Ayieko chose to write the report in exclusion of other departments — meaning that some of the recommendations therein may not necessarily be as a result of consultation.

“We have for example discovered that Ayieko is still working on a paper in which he has recommended that the Authority will be able to connect 9,000 primary schools to the national grid by December,” the source said.

“This is practically impossible when you consider that in the last financial year, we did only 3,000 new connections,” said the source who pleaded anonymity, adding that the target is meant to cast the current management as incompetent should they voice their reservations.

Terminal leave

“In such circumstances, it would be easy for anybody out there to think that the job of lighting up rural schools then belongs to Ayieko if the present leadership shows any signs of wavering.”

Reached for comment on why he has not handed over to his successor, Ayieko said he was on leave but not necessarily terminal leave as is expected of an executive heading to retirement.

Asked why he had not handed over the project report, Ayieko said he would not comment because he was on leave.

The Board chairman Faisal Abbas too refused to comment — only referring this reporter to the statement released to the media on Tuesday.

National grid

In the wider scheme of things, rural electrification is at the core of the success of the now famous Laptop Project — perhaps Uhuru’s most ambitious and resource-sapping undertaking.

The hallmark of Jubilee government, the project bagged a total allocation of Sh53 billion in the nascent financial year.

In itemising the allocation, a whopping Sh15.5 billion has since been voted to Rural Electrification Authority to help connect schools and homesteads to the national grid to support the laptop implementation project.

The Government has already identified 6,000 primary schools that will pioneer the ambitious laptop-for-schools project.

The project will be implemented in three phases, the first of which is projected to cost Sh22 billion, according to the Ministry of Education documents seen by The Standard.

Education ministry officials estimate that about 425,000 pupils will be provided with the laptop starting in January, out of the 1.3 million children expected to join Standard One next year.