The wording of the letter that sent the director-general of the Communications Authority of Kenya, Mr Francis Wangusi, on compulsory leave was terse: “The board has decided that you proceed on three months compulsory leave with immediate effect in order to facilitate the forthcoming audit of human resources.”
Analysts were left pondering about the true motive of the board’s action. On paper, he is accused of engaging in irregularly employing too many of his tribesmen.
This is how an influential insider and operative put it to me when I inquired about the motive of the decision to edge out Wangusi: “He has hired layers and layers of Luhyas.”
Yet an audit conducted last year by the authority’s human resource department did not reveal a trend of nepotism on Wangusi’s part.
It is also true that the objective of that audit — when it was conceived — was to deal with broad human resource management issues, including promotions and placement of staff.
It was not to seek ammunition to sack or suspend either the DG, the head of HR or even to put the board staffing committee on the spot.
Initially, the report was to be tabled before the board in December last year. That changed after it was decided that an independent audit firm be hired to do the work.
Clearly, the machinations about edging out Wangusi came as an afterthought.
As we went to press, speculation was rife that a notice reappointing a former chairman of the authority was to be gazetted today.
Should that happen, we will be able to discern a clearer picture of the political dynamics behind Wangusi’s tribulations and maybe tell the side of the political divide that wants him out.
In my view, what we are witnessing is a scene out of a playbook on what the South Africans refer to as “State capture”.
Indeed, the phrase is on the lips of every South African, especially after President Jacob Zuma recently appointed a “State capture commission of inquiry”.
But what is State capture?
Simply, it describes tactics that politically well-connected elites employ to control and dominate awards of lucrative contracts and tenders floated by cash-rich government departments and parastatals.
The CA is very cash-rich. I have seen statistics showing that at the end of June last year, the authority was sitting on a whopping Sh10.7 billion, most of it kept in short-term deposits in commercial banks!
From a memo I came across recently, I see how the National Treasury and the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology — the CA’s parent ministry — have been involved in persistent fights with the CA’s board of directors over budgets for big projects.
In 2015, the National Treasury had to block a mega property development project that a section of the authority’s board and influential consultants were fiercely campaigning for.
This was a grandly designed project whose scope had been vastly expanded to include conference facilities, an amusement centre, hotels and restaurants.
But the National Treasury would have none of it. It moved to scuttle the entire thing on the grounds that such a project did not fall within the core business of the authority.
When the grand idea of the proposed conference centre was shot down, the same forces dreamt up another mega project — namely, the construction of a new office block.
Once again, the National Treasury and the ministry promptly scuttled the idea, citing a directive from a retreat by the Cabinet in Naivasha that had directed a freeze on major capital projects by parastatals.
Procurement of computers has also been a big issue.
I have come across evidence showing how the National Treasury and the ministry have been expressing concern year in, year out about CA’s budget for computers.
If you examine the capex budgets that the CA has been presenting to the National Treasury for approval, you will see an average of Sh500 million on computer purchases.
In the Financial Year 2017/2018, CA proposed a capital budget of Sh498 million to purchase computers. Last year, it forecast that it would spend Sh1.17 billion on the same!
How an organisation with a staff compliment of less than 300 gets to spend such huge sums on purchase of computers every year points to a procurement regime that is firmly under capture of well-connected vendors.
This is the backdrop against which the ongoing shenanigans at the CA must be understood. It is all about big bucks and big projects.