Ombudsperson sides with cook fired for exposing mishandling of food at Mukumu Girls

Douglas Muchela. He worked as a cook in the Mukumu Girls' school’s kitchen for more than 10 years.

Photo credit: Isaac Wale | Nation Media Group

The Ombudsperson has come to the defence of the Mukumu Girls cook who was sacked for informing the media of how students’ food was handled before a disease outbreak earlier this year.

After the Nation reported on Tuesday that Douglas Muchela Isutsa had been given the marching orders alongside eight others, the Ombudsperson (Commission on Administrative Justice) has written a letter to the Mukumu principal, seeking an explanation within seven days on why Mr Muchela was sacked.

The letter—signed by Ms Lucy Ndung’u, the access to information commissioner—tells the principal that according to the Access to Information Act, no person should be penalised for making a disclosure in the public interest.

Ms Ndung’u states that Mr Muchela’s act of describing instances of food mishandling at the school after the death of three students and one teacher, plus the hospitalisation of numerous others, was not a breach warranting dismissal.

“The commission notes that acts of Mr Douglad Muchela Isutsa amounted to disclosure of information pertaining to dangers of public health, safety and environment, hence made in the public interest,” she said.

Meanwhile, a Nairobi-based lawyer has offered to file a lawsuit on behalf of Mr Muchela to seek compensation and reinstatement.

Lawyer Dennis Juma of Chege, Kibathi and Company Advocates told the Saturday Nation there were enough grounds to challenge the cook’s sacking.

“His only fault was speaking to the media and being truthful. We believe that his dismissal was totally unlawful, irregular and illegal. It runs contrary to the provisions of the Employment Act and the Constitution. He has a right as an employee. He has the right to express himself,” he said.

“It is for this reason that we have sought instructions to represent Mr Muchela before the Employment and Labour Relations Court to seek, amongst other prayers, compensation for unlawful termination and reinstatement,” he said.

Back to the Ombudsperson, the commission’s communication officer Edward Opany told the Saturday Nation that the commission took up the matter on its own motion following the article.

“We will keep you updated on the progress of the matter once we receive a response from the school,” said Mr Opany.

The cook, confirming his termination, said his only mistake was to reveal the state of affairs in the school. “Is it wrong to tell the truth? I stand by my truth that what happened at Mukumu Girls was not right and I spoke about it,” he said.

He was fired two years to his retirement. In the interview that put him in the school management’s crosshairs, Mr Muchela said he had warned the headteacher several times about poor handling of food.

“Sometimes, we could get beef that was not palatable. When I saw such, I would reject it and say that I wouldn’t cook it. The cateress could then report me to the principal who would summon me and order me to cook. When that happened, teachers opted not to eat it, but students had no option,” he said.