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How Kenya Ports Authority’s top job has become a career killer

By Reuben Mwambingu
Monday, March 30th, 2020 00:00 | 5 mins read
Kenya Ports Authority.

Reuben Mwambingu @reubenmwambingu

After engaging anti-graft agencies in cat and mouse games over alleged corruption at the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), managing director Daniel Manduku has finally thrown in the towel.

Last Friday, Manduku resigned a year and three months since he was confirmed as MD of the State corporation.

Although Manduku did not state the exact reasons for his resignation, a chronology of events surrounding the position of the Port MD can only point to graft allegations and pressure from powerful cartels with interests at the Port of Mombasa.

In a letter to Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, Manduku said he arrived at the decision after “deep introspection and lengthy consultation.”

Coming nearly a month after he was arrested in Nairobi and driven to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters for interrogation on “fresh corruption matters,” it can only be perceived  that he has been under intense pressure.

Manduku joins a long list of people who have occupied the coveted seat only to suffer unceremonious exit.

Prior to joining KPA, Manduku served at the National Construction Authority as Executive Director and Registrar of Contractors for six years.

He took over as KPA acting MD when the Port of Mombasa was mired in confusion after the dramatic sacking of his predecessor Catherine Mturi-Wairi in 2016.

Mturi had succeeded Gichiri Ndua, who was also sacked alongside other top officials on account of revenue losses and other dubious activities at the port.

System breakdown

There were high expectations that Mturi would turn around the port’s fortunes as the board assured that “Mturi-Wairi is not only qualified, but also has a wealth of experience in the industry as a long-serving employee of KPA”.

But on June 13, 2018, the same board, in the presence of the then Principal Secretary Public Works and Transport, Paul Maringa, suspended Mturi, citing incompetent leadership that had allegedly culminated in “massive system breakdown occasioned by serious cargo backlog at the port”.

The board then named Manduku as MD on an acting capacity for a period of two months pending further directions.

Even before he settled on the seat, the pressure at KPA was already unbearable.

Amid relentless pressure over theft of containers, congestion of cargo at the port and at the Inland Container Depot in Nairobi, the usually sweltering and humid conditions at the sea level would literally escalate temperatures for anyone holding the MD’s office at the time.

But, Manduku, while still in acting capacity, girded up his loins and appeared to wade through the pressures well until December 3, 2018 when he was confirmed as substantive MD after he emerged top out of other interviewees in the race for the post.

The position had attracted 60 applicants out of which 14 were shortlisted.

However, shortly after confirmation, Manduku, like his predecessors, found himself at the centre of controversy over a series of corruption allegations.

The most outstanding was the controversial tendering for the Sh40 billion Kipevu Oil Terminal project which had attracted anti-corruption investigators.

Uhuru’s warning

In August, last year, the MD must have been shocked to the core when President Uhuru Kenyatta hinted that his administration was aware of a mega scandal at the port among other dubious undertakings and warned that those behind it “should prepare to carry their own cross.”

It is reported that the Chinese company that won the tender to build the Kipevu Oil Terminal had been blacklisted by the World Bank at the time KPA invited bids for the project in 2016.

China Communications Construction Company had been debarred from bidding for World Bank projects after its parent company, China Road and Bridge Corporation, was found guilty of engaging in collusive practices in World Bank-funded projects in the Philippines.

It is said KPA floated the tender on March 23, 2016, and 31 bidders from at least 15 countries showed interest.

While Manduku’s reign at the port lasted, EACC was investigating why the cost of the Kipevu Oil Terminal project increased from Sh15 billion to Sh25 billion, and then to Sh40 billion.

Late last year, the Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti said his office was investigating tenders worth Sh2.9 billion at the port.

He said there were queries on how Sh500 million was spent on the Makongeni goods shed project in Nairobi, manufacture of concrete barriers at Sh1.4 billion and the Sh800 million Kisumu port revitalisation project, among others.

This was before Manduku was arrested  but his case failed to proceed in court after office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the DCI differed on the matter.

For the better part of his stay at the port, Manduku has been fighting to save his job, with powerful forces within and without the harbour baying for his blood.

Among them were top managers whose sacking he had initiated as others were transferred to less prestigious positions.

The managers have been accusing Manduku of waging a war against them so as to bring in his cronies.

The aggrieved managers were suspected to be involved in leaking of documents relating to dubious tenders at the Port to media, EACC and DCI.

Another group that wanted Manduku out are cartels that control who gets tenders at the port.

The cartels, comprising mainly of wealthy businessmen, politicians and senior government officials, were engaged in vicious battles over several multi-billion tenders that were issued and later cancelled.

Pilot boat

The tenders included the Sh1.1 billion supply of concrete slabs awarded to 11 firms and a Sh560 million tender to make 10,000 concrete barriers awarded to six companies.

Others were the Sh1.7 billion tugboat tender which was cancelled following claims of underhand dealings.

The tender had attracted nine bidders including, Grandweld Shipyard UAE, Yuexin Ocean Engineering Ltd, Aruon SA, Samwon HI, Bogarici Denizalik, Med Marine and Cheoy Lee Shipyard of Hong Kong.

Another tender was that of a pilot boat valued at Sh600 million. The evaluation committee awarded the tender to Cheoy Lee Shipyard to build the pilot boat but this was also mired in controversy.

Analysts say the scandals, which led to Manduku’s resignation, could have been initiated at a higher level only to end up swallowing the corporate wonderboy plucked from the architectural world.

“These tenders could not have been given without the blessings of the Ministry of Transport.

Without defending Manduku, there is another hand and that is why you have even seen the DCI and DPP fight over whether to charge him or not.

There is a powerful force behind the scandals whether they exist or are manufactured,” said a top government official who sought anonymity.

For many years, the port has remained a playground for a criminal cartel that uses it to smuggle drugs, counterfeits and other illegal goods.

The cartel has deep pockets and continues to hold considerable influence on the KPA management. Anyone who crosses swords with the cartel is hounded out. 

Over the years, the country has lost billions of shillings through unpaid taxes as a result of container theft.

KPA is yet to account for 2,636 containers with a tax value of Sh2.6 billion which went missing in 2016. The containers were destined for Uganda.

Coast leaders have been insisting that the port leadership should be left to locals, a position that has been challenged on grounds that KPA is a national installation.

Former Mwatate MP Calist Mwatela is among leaders who believe the authority’s MD should come from the region.

“You may accuse us of being tribal but we need to speak the undiluted truth to straighten up KPA matters.

If you look at the KPA board, you see marginalisation of Coast people. This must change,” said Mwatela.

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho has   been in the forefront of calling for devolution of port operations. 

Since his administration came to power about eight years ago, the port’s relationship with the county has been frosty.

The county leadership has on several occasions accused KPA of not doing enough to benefit the county and local citizens.

Reuben Mwambingu

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