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Row at water agency deepens as board extends acting CEO's term

By Jacob Ng'etich | May 3rd 2021
NWHSA chair Erick Okeyo (right), CEO Sharon Obonyo and Kisumu County Commissioner Susan Waweru at a past consultative forum on Koru-Soin dam. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The intrigues surrounding leadership of a water agency deepened after it emerged that a court ruling last year had barred the organisation from hiring outside two names from an earlier interview.

A ruling by Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Hellen Wasilwa in December 2020, ordered the National Water Harvesting and Storage Authority (NWHSA) to appoint Andrew Wanyonyi or Ali Boru as the chief executive officer. 

"A declaration that the recruitment process ensuing from re-advertisement for the position of Chief Executive Officer, referenced NWHSA/2018/2019/01 dated 11 June 2019 met all constitutional and legal requirements and /or was conducted in strict compliance of all laws and this valid," read part of the ruling. 

On Wednesday, an acrimonious board meeting extended the term of acting CEO Sharon Obonyo for six months. 

The differences pitting Water Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki against Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu over the extension of the term against the board's decision, played out in the full board meeting and have threatened to stall operations at the state agency.

The decision split a section of board members rattled by the ministry's alleged interference, which exposed their actions to legal action.

The board chaired by Erick Okeyo declined to sign the letter extending the term of the acting CEO terming it an illegality. Ms Obonyo's tenure expired on Tuesday midnight after serving two terms of six months each in acting capacity.

The case filed by Gedi Mohamed of Gedi and associates had sought to block NWHSA from re-advertising the CEO job after the interviews were conducted and three names presented by the board to the Water Cabinet Secretary for appointment.

During the period, the top candidate died. The developments forced the board to re-advertise the position but a petitioner, Mohamed Abdullahi, successfully challenged the matter in court.

Justice Wasilwa ruled that any interview that is not that of June 2019 for the position of NWHSA CEO would be null and void.

A source at the meeting said a section of directors were allegedly intimidated and coerced by top ministry officials to hand the acting CEO another term of six months.

A letter of the resolutions of the stormy board meeting seen by The Saturday shows the board granted the acting CEO another term.

However, the letter appointing Obonyo as CEO in acting capacity was signed by a board member Walubengo Waningilo contrary to the norm where it is signed by the chairman. 

"The move by the CS and PS to dictate and force board members of NWSHA to give Obonyo an extension of another term in office as CEO is an illegality, questionable and suspect since she has served for the mandatory period of six months as stipulated in the circular from the Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua," said the source who declined to be named. 

The source privy to the deliberations said the chairman did not sign the resolutions as this would have given credence to the illegal extension of the tenure of the Ag CEO, therefore making the appointment letter given by Mr Waningilo who is the chairman of the finance board null and void.

"This is in itself an illegality for a member of the board to purport to sign an appointment letter to the CEO while the chairman who chaired the meeting is there. We will not accept this as it will open a pandora's box for legal redress by whoever wants to challenge the process of appointment," the source added.

A letter, ref: NWHSA/CLS/BOD/FIL/01/VOL11/( 78), written by Obonyo and dated April 26 invited the full board for a meeting at the authority's offices to deliberate on the position of acting CEO and that of acting general managers.

Obonyo was appointed acting CEO on April 28, last year and her tenure extended on October 28 2020 for a further six (6) months.

The source claimed that the acting CEO has been ignoring decisions and resolutions made by the board and instead referring the matters to the CS. 

"Obonyo has repeatedly said she is only answerable to CS and not the board. The bad blood between the board and the CEO has affected delivery of services," the source claimed. 


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