Helb official to get job back, Sh36m after rejecting illegal order

Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) CEO Charles Ringera.

An embattled finance executive has won back his job and Sh36 million compensation for unfair dismissal after rejecting illegal orders by his boss.

Justice Byram Ongaya of the Employment and Labour Relations Court said Shem Gichimu was right to reject an illegal directive by Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) chief executive officer Charles Ringera to adjust the salary of a senior officer.

“While making that award, the court upholds the claimant’s submission that a public body such as the respondent, by its agents or employees, must not indulge in facilitating, aiding and abetting grant corruption and if such indulgence appears to take place and the public body fails to prove that it did not deliberately fail to discharge its responsibilities according to its mandate, then the victim of the public body must be protected and adequately compensated,” the judge said.

Mr Gichimu was employed as the Head of Finance at Helb on June 4, 2007, and served in that position until September 27, 2019, when his contract was suddenly terminated. This triggered a court fight that revealed the conflict between him and Mr Ringera over a directive to raise the basic salary of the agency’s then chief operations officer Geoffrey Monari (now the CEO of the Universities Fund).

Court filings show that Mr Gichimu’s woes began after Finance Manager, Kerin Lidoroh on March 25, 2019, brought to his attention a discrepancy in Helb’s payroll for that month. She was specifically concerned that Mr Monari’s basic salary for that month differed from that paid in previous months. On further inquiry, she was advised by then acting human resource manager Gilbert Wir that increment had been approved by Mr Ringera.

To support his claim, the HR manager produced a memo prepared for the CEO explaining that there was a huge discrepancy between Mr Monari’s basic salary and that of other members of staff within the same grade.

Dissatisfied, Mr Gichimu requested to be provided with a board resolution authorising the said change, but there was none.

Mr Gichimu then sought the advice of the Head of Legal and Corporation Secretary Bernadette Masinde. She said there was no board resolution on Mr Monari’s basic salary and further revealed that she had on March 26,2019 raised the matter and advised that the organisation should adopt a holistic approach to resolve salary discrepancies.

Based on Mrs Masinde’s response Mr Gichimu declined to approve the changes to Mr Monari’s basic salary.

The HR manager sought the CEO’s approval to disregard the incremental credit, but Mr Ringera maintained his position and directed that there should be no further engagement on the matter.

On March 27, 2019, Ms Lidoroh wrote to the CEO through Mr Gichimu’s office, expressing concern about the unprocedural increment and requesting approval to process the payroll. Mr Ringera approved the request on the same day and all staff salaries except that of Mr Monari were paid.  Mr Monari’s salary was adjusted back and paid on March 28, 2019.

The CEO complained to Mr Charles Onami Maranga, the chairperson of the board’s finance staff and general purpose committee.

Mr Gichimu wrote a memo to the CEO dated April 3, 2019, in which he explained that as the CFO, his mandate was to ensure that all payments were proper and in line with stipulated laws, code of conduct, policies, and procedures.

Five days later, he was issued with a show-cause letter on why disciplinary action should not be taken against him. He responded and stated that he was under undue pressure to act on instructions that were against the law, the organisation policies and procedures as well as his profession. On April 16, 2019, Mr Gichimu was issued a show-cause letter to explain his absence between 11.23am and 5pm on April 15, without prior authority. Mr Gichimu responded to it on April 23, 2019, and on June 6, 2019, wrote a statement with the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission.

Mr Gichimu was eventually summoned to appear before an Ad-hoc Disciplinary Committee of the board and subsequently, on September 27, 2019, was issued with a termination letter.

Displeased with the decision, Mr Gichimu moved to court and successfully challenged the decision by the Helb board using testimonies from internal teams as well as a November 22, 2021 letter by the EACC which termed Mr Ringera’s actions as illegal and actionable.