Alice Wahome

Water, Sanitation and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Alice Wahome with her Principal Secretary Kipronoh Ronoh at Sarova Panafric Nairobi on May 18.

| Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

CS Alice Wahome accuses PS of insubordination in battle for control of Athi water agency

A battle for the control of billions of shillings at Athi Water Works Development Agency has escalated into a vicious boardroom war that has sucked in Water Cabinet Secretary Alice Wahome and her Principal Secretary Kipronoh Ronoh, a Sunday Nation investigation shows.

The fight has also found its way into the courts through a petition for the removal of the agency’s Chief Executive, Michael Thuita, on claims that he has overstayed his tenure.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is also investigating Mr Thuita on claims of poor leadership and governance.

While the contest has been simmering for months, matters came to a head on September 1, when Ms Wahome wrote a scathing letter to Dr Ronoh, accusing him of insubordination for copying communication on internal ministry matters to other offices, including the EACC.

Six days earlier on August 25, the PS had written to Ms Wahome regarding the agency, in which he referred to “various correspondence in circulation by different entities regarding the leadership and governance” of the entity.

“As an accounting officer and authorised officer at the State Department of Water and Sanitation, I am concerned on (sic) the heavy allegations put against the Chief Executive Officer of Athi Water Works Development Agency,” Dr Ronoh wrote.

“The allegations border on corruption malpractices and a request by EACC on the CEO to step aside to allow investigations to be conducted calls for cooperation and facilitation from the ministry leadership.”

In the letter, Dr Ronoh appears to be blaming the CS for dragging her feet on the matter. He goes on to advise the minister that President William Ruto has issued directives on zero tolerance to corruption, and therefore the CS should consider appointing a new person in an acting capacity to run the agency “with immediate effect”.

To the chagrin of Ms Wahome, the PS copied the letter to President Ruto’s Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei, EACC Chief Executive Twalib Mbarak and Athi Water Works Board Chairman Charles Kamau Karondo.

In her September 1 response to the PS, Ms Wahome did not mince words, noting in the two-page letter: “You have opted to copy the letter to other officers in a matter only known to yourself and designed by you without consultation with me of any misconduct of leadership concern at the agency.”

The letter tells Dr Ronoh that he had not at any time sought a meeting with the CS to bring whatever concerns of corruption or malpractice he may have observed at the agency, and that he had in May this year instigated a complaint to be filed anonymously at the EACC without taking the matter to her attention “or seeking my concurrence and consultation”.

Accusing the PS of undermining her authority as minister “for a calculated and expected outcome”, Ms Wahome warned: “In the current letter, you purport to seek my guidance and concurrence by way of a letter copied to other officers, while I have no knowledge or information of what you are referring to regarding the agency.”


Ms Wahome appears to side with Mr Thuita, and demands to know why the PS would want to “witch-hunt” an officer working under him.

The letter says that while the PS is recommending the suspension of Mr Thuita, he has not found it prudent to brief her on the issue.

She goes on to turn the screw against Dr Ronoh in the letter: “You have become part of governance and leadership challenges at the agency. You should cease the persistent harassment of senior officers in the ministry.”

The back-and-forth has exposed tensions at the leadership of the ministry. While Ms Wahome is the head of the ministry, Dr Ronoh is the accounting officer and, therefore, the one charged with the day-to-day running of functions and operations.

It is, therefore, intriguing when Ms Wahome accuses the PS of interfering with procurement, engaging CEOs in his personal engagements and demanding procurement of unbudgeted projects.

The first salvo against Mr Thuita was fired early in the year when Dr Ronoh wrote to then-Athi Water Works Board chairman, Patrick Mbangula, directing him to institute investigations and take appropriate action against the CEO.

In the letter, Dr Ronoh accused Mr Thuita of giving misleading information regarding government policies on water projects, bad delivery of projects leading to cost escalation, failure to deliver on key project commitments, procurement malpractices and poor compensation mechanisms that had led to the stalling of mega projects, including the Northern Water Collector, Ruiru II Dam and Ndarugu Dam.

“These allegations border on poor management and governance of strategic water programmes that are enablers of the development agenda of the current administration,” the PS said, adding that the same could be deemed as non-compliance with the values and principles of public service.

Just days earlier, Mr Thuita lit a fire under Dr Ronoh when he said Sh1.1 billion allocated for of water projects in Murang’a and Kiambu counties had been diverted to other regions.

The revelation caused uproar in the affected regions, culminating in demands for the disbandment of the entire board in June.

In a press briefing, Kagumo MP Joseph Kamau Munyoro and his Gatanga colleague Edward Muriu threatened legal action against the Athi Water Works Board. The also threatened to disrupt extraction with the Murang’a basin.

On June 14, Mr Mbangula, the board chairman, wrote to the PS requesting a special board meeting to discuss leadership at the agency.

Dr Ronoh granted the request on the same day.

Board members trooped to the agency headquarters off Kiambu Road for the special sitting to evict Mr Thuita from office.

Two days later on June 16, Ms Wahome wrote to the board chairman cancelling the sitting.

“Reference is made to a letter dated June 14, 2023 by Dr Paul Ronoh, PS, Water and Sanitation,” the minister said in a short, terse letter to Mr Mbangula.

“This is to advise you that the PS... has no authority to approve a special board meeting. In this regard, no such meeting should be held.”

By that letter, Mr Thuita survived removal by a whisker, but his problems were not over.

As the boardroom wars escalated, the EACC – on instructions of Dr Ronoh – had been turning the screws on Mr Thuita.

Twenty days earlier, on May 24, the anti-corruption commission had written to the chief executive officer requesting documents for various tenders, key among them the Ruiru II, Karimenu and Kitui-Matuu water projects.

On the same day Mr Mbarak wrote to Mr Thuita, he also wrote to the minister recommending the suspension of the CEO.

The EACC boss said Mr Thuita was under investigation and could interfere with the process if he was allowed to remain in office.  He also advised Ms Wahome to put Mr Thuita on half pay during the suspension.

However, the minister appears to have ignored Mr Mbarak’s recommendations as Mr Thuita was still in office at the time of filing this report, more than two months later.

Indeed, on May 31, Ms Wahome wrote to Mr Mbarak to argue against the proposal, saying “the subject matter” of his letter to her should have been “investigations into procurement illegalities in the award of tender of the projects, and not suspension”.

She further asked the EACC chief to forward to her the letter of complaint against Mr Thuita as the recommended decision was a very serious step, and “the rules of justice in our Bill or Rights require that a person is entitled to fair treatment and hearing”.

Athi Water Works Development Agency is one of the most lucrative government units under the Water docket.

Tasked with undertaking the development, maintenance and management of national water works in Nairobi, Kiambu and Murang’a counties, it has an annual allocation of about Sh20 billion, which is almost half of the entire ministry’s budget.

The government agency also receives huge financial support from many other development organisations and partners, including the World Bank.

Mr Thuita’s tenure at the agency is also the subject of a case at the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court.

In a petition to the court, Ms Caroline Wambui Mwangi – through Robinson Maina and Company Advocates – argues that Mr Thuita is in office illegally as his term ought to have expired after the end of six-year tenure from June 6, 2017.

Petition in court

She goes on to say that the EACC has written to the Water Cabinet Secretary recommending the suspension of Mr Thuita but she has not acted on the advice.

Ms Mwangi contends that the refusal by the minister to act on the recommendations of the commission points to a conspiracy to shield Mr Thuita from accountability and prescribed legal requirement “for ulterior motives”.

The August 16, 2023 petition further argues that the court should declare that Mr Thuita’s continued stay in office is illegal, that he should be barred from running Athi Water Works and that he should be compelled to refund the public funds he has earned from the agency since June 5, 2023 “when his lawful tenure expired”.

Mr Thuita was appointed chief executive officer of Athi Water on May 23, 2018 by then-Water and Sanitation Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui, for a period of three years.

His term was renewed for another three years by Mr Chelugui’s successor, Sicily Kariuki, on June 1, 2021.

The court is expected to rule on whether the petitioner got it right on the start of the tenure of the chief executive, and if the engineer should call it quits from one of the most important and well-funded government agencies.