By J Kisiero
When it comes to discussing tribalism in public appointments, we tend to sweep everything under the carpet and to pretend that appointments on the basis of ethnicity and political patronage are not a factor.
The CEO of the National Oil Corporation of Kenya (Nock), Ms Summaya Hassan-Athmani, has just been ordered to go on compulsory leave, ostensibly to pave way for an ‘enterprise audit’ on the books of the state-owned company.
The board has informed her that the decision to send her on leave is normal, assuring her that the decision to have her temporarily step down is not out of disciplinary action and that there are no plans to remove her from office.
It is hypocrisy. How else would you explain the fact that the same board has ordered all locks to her office changed and her computer’s access to the company’s Wi-Fi networks disabled?
Ms Hassan-Athmani’s current predicament is the result of unending intrigues in the parastatal sector by self-absorbed ethnic elites who – blinded by an exaggerated sense of entitlement to these public positions – are unable to appreciate that every qualified citizen of this country, regardless of tribe, gender or race, has a right to occupy a plum position in the public sector.
You have to understand the impact of tribalism and political patronage in the energy sector to appreciate Ms Hassan-Athmani’s current predicament.
We all know that when an unwritten formula for sharing public appointments was agreed on by the elite of the Jubilee coalition three years ago, the energy sector was allotted to the Kalenjin elite.
Positions were to be shared between the elite of the ethnic communities that form the bulwark of the coalition – the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin.
Which is why if you look closely at the sharing of positions of chief executives, chairmen and directors of major parastatals in the energy sector, you will notice that appointments to these plum positions more or less follow this unwritten ethnic formula.
Examples that come to mind immediately include the Kenya Pipeline Company, Kenya Electricity Generation Company, Kenya Power, Kenya Electricity Transmission Company, and the Geothermal Development Company.
Yet there is a sense in which the board of Nock stands out. In the first place, it is just too big.
Under the much touted Mwongozo Code of Governance and Leadership, the size of parastatal boards is set at a maximum of nine.
Yet in the case of the National Oil Corporation, the board is composed of 12 directors.
But it is the ethnic mix of the board that will give you a clue about the state of power play in the organisation where the pressure to kick out Ms Hassan-Athmani might be coming from.
The board is composed of seven Kikuyus, three Kalenjins, one Turkana and Ms Hassan-Athmani herself.
Clearly, the balance of power in the board of Nock is not in favour of the only woman chief executive of a parastatal in the energy sector, who also happens to be from a politically-inconsequential Swahili tribe of Lamu/Kilifi.
Away from the public limelight, Ms Hassan-Athmani has had to brave persistent battles with members of the board over issues to do with corporate governance, especially regarding the delineation of power between the board and the management.
A stickler for the law and transparent procedures, she has been exchanging harsh letters with the chairman of the board, Mr Daniel Wamahiu protesting moves by directors to interfere in management matters.
Is it not an outrage that some of directors of the state-owned company have been insisting on sitting in meetings of tender opening and evaluation committees?
Clearly, the directors have been trying to wield power they don’t have.
And why would you send your CEO home when all you want to do is conduct an enterprise risk audit, and especially under circumstances where an audit by an international audit firm on the company’s books has just been published?
Who said an enterprise risk audit was about finding faults?
Despite all the talk about performance contracting, and reforming corporate governance, the parastatal sector is in a big mess.