Thursday, September 18, 2008



The Standard Column
By Okech Kendo

Could Jacinta Mwatela’s ‘promotion’ letter have been sent to the wrong office, as she initially put it?

The letter did not say ‘why’ she was being promoted, even as she enjoyed the Number Two slot at Central Bank. Or that her replacement, former permanent secretary, Dr Hezron Nyangito, was heading to station.

Because the letter was silent on ‘why’ anyone would give one hardworking woman two high profile jobs, the public has learnt more about supposed irregularities at the CBK.

But it must be asked: Which came first, the wrong letter or the improprieties? Would the public have known these irregularities if the promotion letter had not landed on Mwatela’s table?

Now, taxpayers have cause to suspect CBK is buried in filth; that the Deputy Governor, as chairman of the tender committee, was under pressure to abet improprieties but refused to approve certain deals.

Mwatela has not said whether she enjoyed veto powers or worked with the board. If she has no such powers, then why did she get along for so long with a board whose decisions she did not approve? Was it complicity? Mwatela should have blasted the lid then, reported the irregularities or resigned, saying she would no longer work with a compromised board. But she did not do any of these, until the wrong letter provoked her, last week.

These wrongs could cost the economy billions of shillings, so the Mwatela disclosures are in order. The Deputy Governor is paid to do not just a good job, but also to justify her keep at CBK for more than three decades.

But with a no-thank-you ‘snowflake’ to Francis Muthaura, the latest beneficiary of presidential prerogative opens a can of worms.

While the Mwatela debacle exposes deficiencies in presidential postings, firings and transfers, it gives public watchdogs leads to probe.


Mwatela’s employer, now her tormentor, could easily have negotiated her exit from CBK, rather than laying out an obvious trap. Now the backlash has hit both ways. Civil servants may have good reason to defy the President, but doing so on camera is spite difficult to get away with. It is like looking prize horse in the eye, challenging the god of opportunity, at whose mercy public servants serve, to a duel.

It takes the courage, consolidated courage one might say, of a Jacinta Mwatela to dare question the decision of the lord who art in State House.

At his pleasure

Constitutionally, this lord has the power to hire and fire. Sometimes — and there is precedent — this god acts with impunity.

Mortals like Mwatela serve at his pleasure. He has the pumpkin and the knife; such is the power of the President in the language of the discredited Constitution, which is two decades overdue for overhaul.

Mwatela is not alone in this fight, for few dare burn the granary after feeding so richly from it.

Not even a rat has the courage to fart near the loot, for they eat and pamper all at once.

Mwatela’s company could be what she stands to gain as a perceived martyr, challenging the kingdom of the corrupt and their princes.

But her acrimonious departure on Tuesday has diluted the martyrdom. She has had better timing before, when she blew the cover on architects of Goldenberg, but this time the timing was compromised.

The other company may be the material wealth Mrs Mwatela has consolidated from 1977, having served at the pleasure of three presidents for 31 years.

Other companions are the moralists, feminists, activists and assorted ‘integritists’ who see the woman from the Coast as more sinned against than sinning.

It is also possible some people could see Mwatela as a female version of John Githongo, a whistleblower with global clout.

Only Githongo did not display such fury over Anglo Leasing: He just fled when the odour of the skunk became unbearable.

The cynical could be right to reach false conclusions about Mwatela’s defiance. If only she had blown the whistle before the letter arrived, such doubts would be uninvited. That said, the Mwatela drama renews a precedent of a public servant challenging authority.

The last snub, of a President Moi appointment by Prof Philip Mbithi, a Muthaura predecessor, led to years in the wilderness for a man who is now the ‘prophet’ of Konza. Such defiance is now associated with politicians who feel spurned, like Martha of Gichugu.

For now, Mwatela walks the moral high ground. But certain things are not obvious in the high octave clash among a class for which opportunities come begging.

To be fair, Mwatela has been a distinguished performer. If she did a good job, she was doing what she was hired to do.