The process of picking a new managing director for the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) has begun following the appointment of Martin Nyagah Wambora as the chairman of the board.
The position had been vacant for more than 10 months following the expiry of Erastus Mwongera’s contract.
Mr Mwongera fell out with the outgoing managing director George Muhoho last year after he (Mwongera) declined to renew the latter’s contract for the second time.
Mr Muhoho was eventually imposed on the board by the minister for Transport, Mr Ali Chirau Mwakwere, despite the State Corporations Act that empowers the board to advertise the position and forward two names to the minister for appointment.
And, with just two months to the expiry of Mr Muhoho’s third term at the helm of the body that oversees the country’s airports, stakeholders and employees at KAA are smelling a rat.
Mr Muhoho, 72, was given a one-year contract last March under controversial circumstances.
The board had elevated his deputy, Matthew Wamalwa, to the position only to be overruled by Mr Mwakwere a day later.
Mr Muhoho had already served two three-year terms before the minister overturned a decision by the board to promote Mr Wamalwa as acting KAA boss.
The Permanent Secretary for Transport, Dr Cyrus Njiru, while confirming that Mr Wambora had been named the new chairman, promised that the position held by Mr Muhoho will be advertised.
“The board is now fully constituted with the chairman,” the PS said without stating why it had taken 10 months to replace Mr Mwongera.
Mr Mwongera’s exit is said to have been linked to his refusal to extend Mr Muhoho’s term in office.
Mr Muhoho is a close political ally of President Kibaki. They co-founded the Democratic Party of Kenya (DP) on Christmas Day in 1991 in Mombasa.
In the run-up to the 2007 General Election, Mr Muhoho took leave at KAA to run Mr Kibaki’s re-election campaign. Whereas other civil servants had to quit their positions to join politics, Mr Muhoho, who is also an uncle of Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta, resumed his duties in January 2008 after the swearing-in of Mr Kibaki as President on December 30, 2007.
Dr Njiru said Mr Muhoho’s contract expires on March 31 and, by then, a new MD will have been selected.
“The process of recruitment has begun, and the position will be advertised if it has not already been advertised,” Dr Njiru told the Sunday Nation.
While the PS may be convinced that the MD is serving his two final months at the corporation, evidence at KAA headquarters at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport points to a “proxy fight” to perpetuate Mr Muhoho’s legacy.
Employees are concerned that the forces that ensured Mr Muhoho made his way back to the helm are now grooming one of the general managers to take over.
But the PS for Transport said that anyone who qualifies for the position would be invited for an interview, including employees of the corporation.
Efforts to interview Mr Muhoho failed as he was reported to be busy. This was despite sending him a questionnaire for the interview.
The MD had promised, through a communications officer, to respond to the questionnaire, only to change his mind at the last minute.
Kenya Airways was forced to temporarily withdraw its services from the airport at night because of frequent power outages last month.
And it is not just at JKIA where KAA is under siege; the problems bedevilling the organisation are spread throughout the country’s airports.
Acquisition of public land around Wilson Airport, including a plot surrendered by the University of Nairobi, has remained unchecked.
But to his credit, Mr Muhoho has been overseeing the construction of a new modern wing at JKIA and a new airport in Kisumu.
A duty-free shop at the airport is reported to have been given, without competitive bidding, to a relative of a senior employee of the corporation.
It is such issues that the Sunday Nation had sought responses from Mr Muhoho about but he hadn’t responded by the time we went to press last night.
According to Captain Gad Kamau, the region’s second busiest airport after JKIA, has never passed the test of security carried out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao).
Between 1993 and 2003, the KAA plan for Wilson had changed so drastically that two residential estates have sprung up on land that is still gazetted as airport land.
A minister in the present government, together with a former chief executive of the authority, acquired land that had been set aside for the headquarters of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).