Safina Kwekwe

Principal Secretary for Correctional Services Safina Kwekwe.

| Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

What awaits Kenya Prisons Service's new leadership

What you need to know:

  • Former PS for Correctional Services Zeinab Hussein was quietly transferred to the Tourism ministry over the weekend.
  • Curiously, there was no announcement from State House about the changes like is the norm.

Incoming Principal Secretary for Correctional Services Safina Kwekwe quietly took the reins at Teleposta Towers on Thursday, joining a completely new leadership team tasked with restoring the battered image of the Kenya Prisons Service.

With former PS Zeinab Hussein and former Commissioner General (CG) Wycliffe Ogalo gone, Ms Kwekwe and the new CG, Brigadier (Rtd) John Kibaso Warioba, plus the new Principal Administrative Secretary Kangethe Thuku, will have a full in-tray.

Ms Hussein was quietly transferred to the Tourism ministry over the weekend and asked to show the status of the projects the department was carrying out as part of the hand over notes for the new PS.

Curiously, there was no announcement from State House about the changes like is the norm.

Instead, a letter from the head of the Civil Service to Ms Hussein informing her that she had been transferred was leaked to the press.

"By way of this letter, you are requested to prepare comprehensive handover notes to facilitate a smooth handover to the incoming Principal Secretary Safina Kwekwe," said the letter which mentioned the changes as being part of Executive Order number 7 whose contents are also yet to be revealed to the public by State House.

“Please note that your handing over notes should lay emphasis on work plans in progress, status of the priority national development projects under the medium term plan 3 and the Big Four agenda," said the letter sent on December 14.

By choosing to perform a complete overhaul at the top of the Department of Correctional Services, President Uhuru Kenyatta appears to have been fed up by the constant infighting among the former leadership. 

Constant infighting

Insiders say Mr Ogallo’s appointment in 2019 met an already established Ms Hussein, leading to constant infighting that made it almost impossible to implement any meaningful policy or project at the service.

And like Mr Ogallo, who was plucked from the provincial administration to head the Kenya Prisons Service, President Kenyatta bypassed all the top commanders at Magereza House in appointing Brigadier (Rtd) Warioba three weeks ago.

Since the appointment of Mr Isaiah Osugo, a career police officer as the Commissioner General of Prisons by retired President Mwai Kibaki in 2008, none of the top commanders at Magereza House have managed to ascend to the corner office.

By appointing Brigadier (Rtd) Warioba, a retired military officer to take over the service, President Kenyatta once again displayed his affection for the army when he wants things done. 

The new Commissioner General will, however, not only need to get the loyalty of top commanders at Magereza House, but also repair the badly damaged relationship between the civilian wing of the service and the uniformed officers.

He has already began cementing his authority by transferring Assistant Commissioner Generals of Prisons Nicholas Maswai and Patrick Arandu. Also transferred is Regional Commanders Dickson Mwakazi (Eastern) and James Too (Central).

Most importantly though is that the new prison leadership; PS Kwekwe, CG Brigadier (rtd) Warioba and PAS Thuku will quickly need to strike a working relationship to steer around the service whose years of mismanagement was exposed last month when three terror suspects escaped from Kamiti.

Promotion of 4,000 officers

Top on their agenda will be the promotion of more than 4,000 officers, which has been pending for the past six years, payment of pending bills worth Sh6 billion, improvement of the welfare of prisoners, eradication of corruption cartels and completion of stagnated projects.

During a grilling by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) a few weeks before she was transferred PS Hussein revealed that the service paid more than a billion shillings to businesses that supplied hot air in 2018.

The payouts were flagged in a report of Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu for the 2019/20 financial year. It showed that Sh555.65 million was paid for fabricated supplies and Sh419 million was overpaid.

Despite the payments being made when the service was grappling with Sh6 billion pending bills, Ms Hussein said the matter is now under investigation by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

“We inherited these pending bills, only to discover that they had anomalies. The matter was forwarded to the EACC,” she said.

As they deal with the rampant corruption at the service, the new leadership team will also have to boost the morale of officers whose careers have stagnated. This has been a tense matter, especially to graduate officers who feel that their education should move them up the ranks.

About 4,389 prisons officers who passed promotion interviews last year are yet to be promoted despite numerous promised by the Interior Ministry. Part of the reason this has never happened is the Department of Correctional Services thought it was more important to deal with pending bills.

In the last financial year, the State Department for Correctional Services was allocated Sh20.65 billion for personal emoluments, which includes Sh409.7 million for promotions. Interviews for promotions are expected to begin early next year.