Patrick Njoroge: Awkwardness, public rebuttals mark early relationship with Ruto govt

Central Bank of Kenya Governor Dr Patrick Njoroge

Central Bank of Kenya Governor Dr Patrick Njoroge. 

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor Patrick Njoroge appeared to have worked overtime on October 3 when the banking regulator issued a rare rebuttal to the executive over currency reserves in the middle of the night. Dr Njoroge felt compelled to react to claims by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua on TV that there was a forex shortage.  

Mr Gachagua, in an interview with Citizen TV on Sunday, October 2, claimed that the country's financial situation was so bad that it lacked sufficient foreign exchange reserves to import oil.

It was not the first time the CBK governor was finding himself in the awkward position of having to clarify public pronouncements by his new bosses.

Consider, for example, when President William Ruto announced that he would reform the credit reference bureau mechanism to free four million listed defaulters from blacklists just days before the central bank was supposed to lift a year-long listing moratorium.

During the post-Monetary Policy Committee meeting press briefing, Dr Njoroge clarified that the reforms being suggested needed time and that a lot has already been done to move away from outright blacklisting towards risk scoring.

The governor also took the opportunity to react to claims that the CBK will lift the rigorous checks on cash transactions from Sh1 million to Sh10 million. The figure, he said, is fixed in law and global rules which Kenya is a party to and the only reforms being considered are the level of checks and know-your-customer requirements to reduce the red tape of checking transactions over Sh1 million.

The governor is yet to respond to remarks by President Ruto that the CBK has adjusted bank prudential guidelines so that with more deposits banks can do more lending.

Dr Njoroge, who is currently handling a delicate case of a bank run at First Community Bank, is also getting some of his past decisions challenged.

He has recently been sucked into a court case in which the former owners of Fidelity Bank are claiming Sh2.5 billion on accusations that he bullied them into selling the lender for Sh1 in the middle of the night in 2017. The fact that the case comes five years since the bank was sold and amid a transition has sparked speculation about the new administration’s view of the governor.

Dr Njoroge has served two terms since he left the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after a long career spanning 20 years based in Washington DC.

He is the brother to Archbishop Anthony Muheria who presided over the burial of the late President Mwai Kibaki and has been a spiritual figure for the Kenyatta family.

Retired President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Dr Njoroge for a second and final four-year term as CBK governor in 2019 with his term set to end in June next year.  Mr Kenyatta also renewed the terms of CBK deputy governor, Sheila M’Mbijjewe, and the CBK board chairman Mohammed Nyaoga.

A CBK governor is recruited through a transparent and competitive process, including approval by Parliament before being appointed by the President. He or she enjoys a security of tenure unless removed from office through a tribunal.

Dr Njoroge took over from Njuguna Ndung’u, who is President Ruto’s Cabinet nominee for the Treasury.

Interestingly it is under Dr Njoroge’s tenure that an audit on the collapse of Imperial Bank revealed that Prof Ndungu’s wife received gifts from the bank’s former managing director, Abdulmalek Janmohamed, as part of a scheme to co-opt the banking sector regulator into abetting a massive fraud that crippled the lender.

Former CEO of troubled Imperial Bank Mr Abdulmalek Janmohamed

Former CEO of troubled Imperial Bank Mr Abdulmalek Janmohamed. 

Photo credit: File

Prof Ndung'u also worked on the Ruto campaign as an advisor and was part of the team that crafted the President’s pro-poor bottom-up policy proposals, including the push for cheaper credit to small businesses and individuals at a time the CBK is hiking interest rates to deal with record inflation and impact of global shocks.

This story was first published on Business Daily