Port of Mombasa

An aerial view of a section of the Port of Mombasa. 


| Kevin Odit | Nation

How leadership vacuum at KPA affects port business

The leadership vacuum at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) is raising concerns among key stakeholders.

Lack of a substantive managing director for more than 20 months since Mr Daniel Manduku resigned in March last year, and lack of a full board since June this year, are causing jitters at the port. 

The Nation has established that the leadership vacuum has had a detrimental effect on business, with the replacement of acting Managing Director Rashid Salim since March last year with John Mwangemi, and without a fully constituted board, is affecting decision making at the port.

“The laxity by the government to put in place right management at the KPA will have detrimental effects to the business community which might affect cargo throughput. 

“Business community prefers working with stable institutions and some might opt for other ports such as that of Dar es Salaam,” warned Kenya International Freight and Warehousing Association Chairman Roy Mwanthi. 

IMF deal 

According to sources within KPA, the appointment of a new MD is delayed since the government is realigning its key parastatals to comply with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which reached a deal with the country’s authority on a three-year $2.4 billion financing package, causing the delay in appointing new KPA MD. 

In the package, the IMF team and the Kenyan authorities reached staff-level agreement on a 38-month programme to help the next phase of the country’s Covid-19 response and a strong multi-year effort to stabilise and begin reducing debt relative to gross domestic product.

One of the main issues to be achieved is to reduce cost and increase efficiency in various government structures. 

Already, KPA, Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and the Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC) have been merged under the Kenya Transport and Logistics Network (KTLN) to bring the running of the ports, railway services and pipeline under one state agency. 
In March this year, the Kenya Ferry Services was abolished and its staff transferred to operate under the KPA. 

The ongoing changes are some of the factors causing the delay of appointing a new KPA board chairperson and MD. 

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani, in a recent interview, maintained that the delay in appointing a new MD was the result of the ongoing restructuring of the management of Kenyan ports where each is to be headed by a managing director, making them autonomous.
The CS said the restructuring had affected the speed of the appointment of the MD after the hiring deadline expired about a month ago. But he promised the government was in the final stage of making decisions on how each port in the country will have its own MD since they all have specific features.

“We are at the final stage and soon we shall announce how each port will have independent management. The delay in naming the new KPA MD is as a result of the ongoing planned restructuring where we want Mombasa Port and Lamu to have independent management,” said the CS in May.

If the new structure is adopted, Mombasa Port will have its own MD, whereas the Lamu Port, which came into operation in May, and Kisumu Port, will have their own management team.

Despite the newly appointed acting MD Mwangemi being cleared to take office in a ruling made in July this year by Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Byram Ongaya, the absence of a board chairperson and two other directors will affect the basic functions that are assigned to it for supervising and monitoring the authority. 

While reversing his earlier judgment issued in July after the appointment of Mr Mwangemi, Justice Ongaya said there was variance in the processing of a decision made to bar the newly appointed acting MD from office.
Mr Mwangemi, who was only appointed to the post on July 1, faced immediate opposition, with the Commission for Human Rights and Justice terming the appointment secretive and illegal.
He is now expected to replace Mr Salim, who was also KPA’s interim chief executive, who took over as acting MD after the position fell vacant in March last year with the resignation of Mr Manduku less than two years into. By the time Mr Manduku was leaving, he had been battling corruption allegations for months. 

Despite him taking over the office, lack of a fully constituted board will also have a major effect on key decisions, which if not well handled might bring down one of the best performing parastatals in the country. 

The leadership vacuum at the KPA is likely to affect the supervision and monitoring, and advice to decision makers to improve the management of the business which is currently facing stiff competition from the port of Dar es Salaam. 

Since the resignation of Mr Manduku in March last year, efforts to hire a new CEO have been marred by intrigues, including claims of biases, intimidation, political influence, boardroom wrangles and fraud.
But this is not the first time KPA is experiencing a glitch  in the appointment of an MD, as a number of individuals have either left the office in disgrace or been barred from occupying the office due to failure to follow procedure. 

Since 1979, the position of the highly patronised state corporation by both politicians and traders has been held by 16 people, with only four completing their terms without being sacked or resigning.  

Since KPA was established, seven individuals who occupied the office were sacked, while four were forced to resign on allegations ranging from corruption, incompetency, embezzling funds, sabotage, to witch-hunt.

Mr Brown Ondego made history, serving for two terms between 1999 and 2006 until he retired, while John Mturi, Philip Okundi and John Gituma each completed their three-year terms in office.

Before Mr Manduku took the helm, two of his immediate predecessors Catherine Mturi-Wairi and Gichiri Ndua had suffered almost similar controversial exits, succumbing to pressure from both political and government officials to resign. 

Mr Abdalla Mwaruwa and Mr James Mulewa were also hounded out in not dissimilar controversial circumstances. 

Mr Mulewa, who was Mr Ndua’s immediate predecessor was sacked over corruption allegations, while Mr Mwaruwa, who was the managing director before Mr Mulewa was dismissed following protests by workers and a cargo congestion crisis. 
KPA has become highly profitable, raking in Sh15.4 billion profit after tax in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.