Kenya Ports Authority’s (KPA) may be Kenya’s premier state corporation that manages the flow of goods into the country and the wider East African region, but heading it is a hot potato: Managing directors hardly complete their terms, often jettisoned under a cloud of controversy.
In December, KPA began hunting for its fourth MD in three years. In the past 11 years, four heads of the institution were sacked or forced to resign, ending high-flying careers.
For KPA, though, hunting for an MD is sort of routine. Since 2020, the authority has not been successful in replacing Daniel Manduku, who resigned in the Covid-19 high season amid accusations of corruptions at the agency.
Not that it never attracts qualified professionals. In fact, KPA gets overwhelming applications every time an announcement is made. Which is why last week’s decision to advertise the vacancy was curious.
“KPA is seeking to recruit an individual with a high degree of integrity and professionalism, impeccable administrative capabilities and strategic orientation to fill position of Managing Director,” reads the job advertisement placed on December 23.
Acting MD John Mwangemi, a former diplomat, has said he will not be competing for the position he has held since July 2021.
KPA chairman Joseph Kibwana, a former chief of Kenya Defence Forces, indicated that the job entails managing KPA port facilities among them Mombasa, Lamu, Kisumu ports, and Nairobi and Naivasha inland container depots, among other small ports, all critical for Kenya’s trade with its neighbours.
Those interested and qualified for the position have until January 13, 2023 to apply.
Gen (Rtd) Kibwana said an attractive remuneration package and benefits await the successful candidate on contractual terms for three years — renewable subject to satisfactory performance and business requirements.
Since the resignation of Dr Manduku in March 2020, efforts to hire a new executive have been marred by intrigues, including claims of bias, intimidation, political influence, boardroom wrangles and fraud.
In the past 10 years, the KPA top office has seen its occupants exit in quick succession, with at least four bosses being sacked, serving for barely two years.
Sixteen people have held the position since establishment of the Mombasa port in 1976.
Of the 16, only four MDs managed to complete their terms without being sacked or resigning. These were John Mturi, the father of Catherine Mturi-Wairi who came before Dr Manduku; Philip Okundi, Brown Ondego and John Gituma.
Seven other bosses were sacked, while four were forced to resign on allegations ranging from corruption to incompetence, embezzling funds, sabotage and to witch-hunt.
The latest casualty at the highly profitably ranked institution was Dr Manduku, an architect who was appointed in November 2018 from National Construction Authority, where he had served as CEO.
On March 26, 2020, Dr Manduku resigned and Rashid Salim was picked to act as MD, the following day. The Board has been unable to hire a substantive MD in spite of conducting several interviews.
On April 7, 2020, KPA advertised for the position of MD to replace Dr Manduku , but the recruitment exercise was cancelled early in August with the National Treasury , the parent Ministry, ordering a fresh start.
According to the Treasury, the process was marred by politics and favouritism of some applicants, and some moved to court, but a majority of the petitions were dismissed for lack of merit.
Dr Manduku’s troubles started in August 2019. He had been at the helm of the authority for only 10 months when he was accused of entertaining corrupt deals. But he said business interests and high-political power play were the reasons behind his woes.
The then MD said he was removed because of interest of a few individuals.
“These are just business interests. I had foreseen this, but the truth will eventually come out,” Dr Manduku said before the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) swung into action.
Dr Manduku was arrested on March 2, 2020 by officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations for allegedly unlawfully recommending the gazettement of the Nairobi Inland Cargo Terminal as a KPA peripheral facility.
He had said KPA would lease facilities within Nairobi, which would then be gazetted, to curb the congestion at the inland container depot.
He was released without charges after DCI and Director of Public Prosecution failed to agree on the charges.
Before Dr Manduku took the reins, two of his predecessors, Catherine Mturi-Wairi and Gichiri Ndua, had suffered similar controversial exits, succumbing to pressure from both political and government officials to resign.
In July 2016, the KPA board appointed Ms Mturi-Wairi as the first woman to lead the parastatal, at a time the government was eager to launch the standard gauge railway.
Prior to her appointment, Mturi-Wairi had worked at the port of Mombasa for many years, rising to the rank of the General Manager, Finance. However, in June 2018 after two years in office, she was sacked over alleged incompetence that led to congestion at the port of Mombasa and the ICD in Nairobi.
She was accused of sabotaging the SGR freight services that had started in January 2018 and which President Uhuru Kenyatta was keen on.
She was unceremoniously kicked out of the office at night, and Manduku tapped.
Before her, Gichiri Ndua, who had been the corporate affairs manager, was named acting MD and confirmed six months later.
With no charges being preferred against him, along with other senior managers, Mr Ndua was sacked over alleged corruption in February 2016. Days before his sacking, he had declared his networth as Ksh275 million ($2.2 million).
Early in 2010, then MD James Mulewa was sacked after serving for a year and-a-half on accusations of receiving bribes. Mr Mulewa was investigated by the anti-corruption body and charged with receiving bribes. He was to pay Ksh74.6 million ($604,827) to the state after being found guilty of acquiring unexplained assets. His accounts were frozen with more than Ksh25 million ($202,690).
His predecessor, Abdalla Mwaruwa, had been sent home just after a round-table meeting with the private sector in Mombasa in 2008.He was accused of failing to solve the congestion crisis at the port, with importers threatening to seek alternatives. He had implemented the Kilindini Waterfront System said to have caused congestion.
Mwaruwa took over from Brown Ondego, who served for six years till 2005, after taking over from Joseph Munyiri, who resigned less than a year after his appointment in 1999.