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Activist lays bare succession intrigues for KRA top job

KRA Commissioner General John Njiraini

Intrigues and politics surrounding the succession of Kenya Revenue Authority Commissioner General John Njiraini have been laid bare in court.

On Wednesday, activist Okiya Omtatah moved to the High Court in Nairobi seeking orders to stop KRA from creating a new position of Commissioner, Intelligence and Strategic Operations and subsequent appointment of James Githii Mburu as its head.

Omtatah also wants the court to stop confirmation of David Kiprop Sirikwa Yego as Commissioner, Investigations and Enforcement. Yego has been acting in the position since February 2016. Justice Nduma Nderi certified the application urgent and directed the activist to serve KRA within seven days. Inter-parties hearing is slated for April 21.

Unsuccessfully competed

He claims that on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, Njiraini appointed Yego to be the Commissioner in charge of Investigation and Enforcement after several weeks of lobbying and interviews yet he did not make it to the shortlist. Besides Yego, the other shortlisted candidates were George Muya, Evans Nyakango, Collins Wanderi and Ezekiel Maru.

But in a dramatic turn of events, a week later, March 31, 2017, Njiraini sprung an internal memo informing KRA staff that the taxman had restructured the Ethics and Intelligence docket to create the new position of Commissioner of Intelligence and Strategic Operations and that it had approved the appointment of Mburu as the substantive office holder.

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Njiraini in another memo dated March 31, 2017 said, “…the board resolved that the role be headed at commissioner level and accordingly approved the appointment of Mr James Githii Mburu to the new position of Commissioner of Intelligence and Strategic Operations. Mr Mburu will take over the new duties with effect from April 3, 2017.”

In his court filings, Omtatah said, “Mburu unsuccessfully competed for the position of Commissioner Investigation and Enforcement. Clearly, the Board having found him not suitable for the appointment through a competitive and merit based process cannot legitimately handpick him to the new position. Further, why would the Board incur costs subjecting the appointments of other commissioners to a competitive process if they could simply handpick individuals to fill existing vacancies?”

Omtatah says that Njiraini be put to strict proof on the bona-fides of the alleged transaction. He alleges that the position of Commissioner of Intelligence and Strategic Operations is not legal because it does not exist in the current KRA strategic plan.

KRA board is expected to start the process of replacing Njiraini, who has been at the helm of the tax authority since 2012. President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was then minister of Finance appointed him as Commissioner General in March 2012, and was retained by the KRA board in March 2015 for a further three years. The activist states that the unfolding sorry state of affairs closely mirrors the machinations that led to the appointment of Njiraini as the Commissioner General.

He claims the Commissioner General who used to be a partner with his predecessor, Michael Waweru, in the firm Ernst & Young (Africa) was brought into office through a similar succession plan. He said when Waweru was nearing retirement, he split the domestic taxes portfolio and created the Large Taxpayers Office and brought in his former partner, (Njiraini), to be the head as commissioner, and positioned him to take over as Commissioner General upon his retirement.

“The tradition of locking out or denying other qualified Kenyans the opportunity to compete on merit, by preparing and fronting cronies to take over the position of the CEOs of KRA, which is a very strategic government agency, needs to be stopped by this Court enforcing the law.”

Succeed him

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According to Omtatah, the retirement of Joseph Nduati in November 2013 triggered lobbying for his replacement in the position of Commissioner in charge of Investigation and Enforcement. Senior Deputy Commissioner George Muya was then appointed to hold the position in an acting capacity.

“The transfer of Mburu, from the Large Taxpayers Office to that of Investigation and Enforcement triggered speculation he was the candidate favoured and fronted by Njiraini to succeed Nduati, with the intention of placing him in line to succeed him when he retires on December 19, 2017, upon attaining the mandatory retirement age of 60 years.”

Within the KRA structures, only employees at the rank of commissioners qualify to be considered for appointment as Commissioner General.

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