Today, Child Welfare Society of Kenya (CWSK) chief executive Irene Mureithi would have been exactly two months into compulsory leave to pave the way for a special audit of the institution that was exposed for mistreatment of minors and gross corruption in a series of media reports.
But on October 11, just four days after the letter sending her on compulsory leave was drafted, Ms Mureithi obtained a court order barring her suspension and has since opened an all-out war against her employer.
The media reports detailed how children under the CWSK’s care were denied proper medical attention, exposed to expensive, unverified treatments while money that could have eased the situation was used in projects now under investigation.
Attempts to suspend Ms Mureithi have now spawned a series of court cases where several orders have been issued, throwing the CWSK into a dizzy spin that now threatens to grind operations to a halt.
The court battles have also threatened to hamper investigations into graft and mistreatment of children which was ordered by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s office following the damning media reports in August and September.
Aside from fighting suspension, Ms Mureithi is also locked in a battle with the CWSK board of directors for control of 11 accounts at Equity Bank, which the lender has now frozen following confusion over individuals with authority over the millions domiciled in them.
Board chairperson Shakila Abdalla has now revealed in court papers that Ms Mureithi has used the order stopping her suspension to change account signatories for the Equity Bank accounts, effectively locking the CWSK out of its own funds while fighting a series of suits.
On October 14, children at Mama Ngina Children’s Home in South C, Nairobi, were forced to split old furniture into firewood for cooking, after the board failed to secure funds for any other means owing to the lockout, according to court papers.
“The CWSK is unable to provide the very essential and basic needs of these vulnerable children as the provision of essential services, including food, have ground to a halt. There is further risk of misuse and misappropriation of public funds by Ms Mureithi, which funds are meant for the well-being of vulnerable children,” Ms Abdalla says.
When the CWSK board met on October 7, it resolved to change the signatories of 11 bank accounts operated by the institution at Equity Bank.
And on October 16, the board furnished Equity Bank with a fresh list of signatories.
Equity, however, refused to change the signatories, arguing that Ms Mureithi had earlier written to the lender in her capacity as CEO instructing it not to follow the CWSK board’s demands for a switch.
CWSK’s Trustees also wrote to Equity insisting that the signatories should remain the same, seemingly in support of Ms Mureithi.
The letter, signed by Trustees Board chairman Joseph Gitau, was sent to Equity on October 19.
Five days later, the National Treasury ordered Equity Bank to freeze the 11 accounts, citing violation of the Public Finance Management Act and the likelihood of losing money to graft. The lender complied.
The CWSK has now sued Equity Bank for freezing its accounts, accusing the lender of acting without notice.
Mr Basiliano Nyaga, a CWSK official, claims the lender froze the accounts irregularly and without informing the institution.
He adds that CWSK is now unable to operate as its funds are stuck.
Equity, however, insists that it informed the CWSK of the Treasury order, and that Mr Nyaga has failed to inform the court of the National Treasury directive as part of a ploy to lift the freeze order.
Mr Nyaga, Trustees chairman Gita and Ms Mureithi are the signatories to the 11 bank accounts.
The lender’s legal services manager Kariuki Kingori adds that Equity also froze the accounts after it was unable to ascertain the proper list of signatories.
“In view of the existence of the dispute, the bank exercised its right to restrict transactions, which right exists with regard to any account which, in the bank’s opinion, is not being operated satisfactorily, such as when there is a dispute between account signatories or where the persons mandated to operate the account are not clear to the bank.
“The orders sought are untenable in law and cannot be granted to a stranger without the authority of the National Treasury and granting the orders would be circumventing the Public Finance Management Act, 2012, that could possibly lead to embezzlement of public funds as earlier reported,” Mr Kingori says in court filings.
In her suit against CWSK, Ms Mureithi claims the board of directors was not properly constituted as per the law, hence had no power to send her on compulsory leave.
She holds that after the CWSK was converted into a State corporation in 2014, its first board of directors was to be drawn through nomination of individuals by the institution’s trustees.
Ms Mureithi adds that the CWSK has never had its first board of directors since becoming a State corporation, and that the current office holders were irregularly appointed by Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani.
The CWSK has now asked Justice Hellen Wasilwa to allow them to suspend Ms Mureithi, arguing that the embattled CEO tricked the court into issuing orders by concealing information such as the ongoing probe.
Board chairperson Abdalla holds that stopping Ms Mureithi’s suspension has slowed down investigations into the State agency.
Interestingly, barely two weeks after CWSK attempted to suspend Ms Mureithi, two court cases were also filed in Nairobi and Kisumu challenging the current board of directors, which only assumed office on October 3.
The Nairobi case, filed by Mr Joel Asiachi Kusimba, reiterates Ms Mureithi’s claims.
On October 8, 2019, just one day after Ms Mureithi’s suspension, Justice Wasilwa issued a court order barring Mr Abdul Bahari, Ms Shakila Abdalla, Ms Cheryl Majiwa, Ms Doris Kinuthia and Mr Peter Molu Ibrae as first members of CWSK’s board of directors following Mr Kusimba’s suit.
The CWSK has also asked the judge to revoke her orders, arguing that Mr Kusimba lied about the CWSK never having a first board of directors.
The institution says the first board completed its term in March, 2018, and by law their replacements were to be appointed by the Labour and Social Protection CS.
On October 24, Mr Mickey Boyi Otolo filed a suit in Kisumu challenging legal notice 58 of 2014, which made the CWSK a State corporation.
Justice A. Ombwayo issued orders suspending the implementation of the legal notice on October 24.
The judge’s order means that the CWSK will revert to operating as a society and will be nearly free of government scrutiny or control.