The bare-knuckled battle for the control of the University of Nairobi’s billions and personnel management has been escalated to the university’s council.
The battle has also sucked in the government and top officials are said to be stepping in informally to ensure that normalcy returns and the institution does not sink into a crisis.
At the heart of it is the university’s Vice Chancellor Peter Mbithi who is locked in a power struggle with Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration and Finance, Bernard Njoroge after the latter raised the alarm over mismanagement of funds.
Prof Mbithi has moved to clip Prof Njoroge’s powers by issuing new guidelines where all expenditure above Sh100,000 can only be approved by the Vice Chancellor.
The Vice Chancellor is also moving performance contracting to his office, taking away powers he enjoyed when he himself served as the DVC Academic before elevation to the new position.
According to an exchange of letters seen by the Sunday Nation, Prof Njoroge attempted to contain expenditures in the university, a move that has now earned him a show cause letter from the university’s chairman of the Council Idle Farah.
Prof Njoroge in a letter to Dr Farah has complained that Prof Mbithi is watering down his efforts to tighten financial controls.
The letters portray thrifty measures on the part of Prof Njoroge who has capped the expenditures by cutting on retreats and out-of-town seminars by senior university staff. The Sunday Nation has established that the university is running on a Sh2.5 billion deficit and is currently on a Sh400 million bank overdraft.
“I was instrumental in disallowing the University Management Board (UMB) intended retreat at Enashipai Hotel which is very expensive in June. I also had to cut down the number of Senate and UMB retreat in Great Rift Valley Lodge and Resort in Naivasha which has earned me barbs and instructions on approvals for financial expenditure, including my not approving an expenditure of Sh4 million on cocktails,” said Prof Njoroge.
He adds that the trip to Great Rift Valley was budgeted to be Sh13 million but he slashed it to Sh10 million through cutting out joyriders and capping superfluous procurements.
And Vice Chancellor Mbithi in a letter dated August 3 sought to be the one approving all expenditures above Sh100,000 in the university.
“I have given new guidelines with regard to approvals of the expenditure and from now henceforth, all expenditures of Sh100,000 and above will be approved by the Vice Chancellor with the recommendation of the Deputy VC Administration and Finance,” wrote Prof Mbithi.
Those opposed to Prof Mbithi say that the appointments and promotions that he has signed off since taking office should be scrutinised to see if they meet the constitutional requirements for regional balance in public institutions.
Prof Njoroge, who is newly appointed as DVC wrote to Dr Farah seeking protection from his boss who he accused of demeaning him and interfering with his duties.
In reply, the chairman of the council has instructed Prof Njoroge to “swiftly comply with instructions issued by Vice Chancellor in his capacity as the accounting officer of the university.”
Further, Prof Njoroge has been asked to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against him “on grounds of indiscipline, gross misconduct, incitement and insubordination”.
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Before promotion, Prof Mbithi was the DVC Administration and Finance which is now currently held by Prof Njoroge.
Prof Njoroge’s appointment was riddled with controversy as he was not popular with some of the university’s bosses despite having been the best during the interview for the position.
Universities Academic Staff Union was accusing the Ministry of Education and senior members of staff at the University of Nairobi of interfering with his appointment.
The union’s chairman Samuel Nyandemo claimed the ministry was introducing a concept of regional balancing, that the new deputy vice-chancellor was supposed to come from a minority tribe. Dr Nyandemo said the concept was a ploy to have Prof Enos Njeru take up the position. Prof Njeru is a Mbeere while Prof Njoroge is a Kikuyu.
Prof Njoroge in his letter to the VC has said: “I know I was not your choice but I am the office holder now.”
Contacted by the Sunday Nation on Saturday, Prof Mbithi said: “ The matter is being handled by the council. It is beyond my level and therefore (I) cannot comment further.”
It has also emerged that legal challenges could face the university over the constitution of the current UoN council, which would only escalate the problem. The potential hurdle stems from a judgment delivered by the courts in relation to an earlier unrelated dispute at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
According to the courts, the appointment of University Council members by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology has to adhere to constitutional and statutory principles of inclusiveness and openness in public appointments.
The decision was reached in a judgment delivered by Mr Justice Nduma Nderi of the Employment and Labour Relations Court, in a case filed by two petitioners challenging Prof Jacob Kaimenyi’s appointment of the JKUAT Council.
Justice Nderi agreed with the petitioners and the AG that the appointment was faulty and declared that the Council was not properly constituted.
“In this case, the relevant provision is Section 36(1)(d) of the Universities Act, 2012 which mandates the Cabinet Secretary to appoint five (5) members of the Council through an open process,” said the Judge.
He said that in discharge of its functions and exercise of its powers under this Act, a University shall be guided by National values and principles of governance set out under Article 10 of the Constitution.
Mr Justice Nderi also said that the Court upholds these to be the minimum standards applicable to the appointment of the chairman and members of the Council.