KEBS, where CEO careers and standards go to die due to corruption

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The demons that haunt Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) seem to be on some strong steroids as once again, the very critical agency seems to be under an unbreakable spell. This is the umpteenth time the institution has hit the limelight over the conduct and character of its leadership and it is starting to seem like KEBS is the hub of criminal conduct, where CEOs come to perpetuate questionable ideals.

Its doors seem to be affording opportunities for top bosses who are then soon thereafter curtailed by a hoard of cases some of which are still pending in court. For purposes of perspective, the current Chief Executive Officer of KEBS Benard Njiraini was last evening arrested by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission officials over bribery charges and is currently in custody.

The opportunities at KEBS appear lucrative only to leave a long trail of broken corporate careers and a damaged reputation.

The biggest irony is that the agency’s personnel at the standards body are charged with the mandate and responsibility of setting standards for every product, and sometimes services consumed in the country. It’s officials also inspect products to ascertain whether the said items meet and adhere to the standards set by law for each individual product. In retrospect, it is correct to state that they hold the lives of Kenyans at ransom because the quality and safety of the products consumed by the nation, whether it’s people or animals, are at the behest of their authority. Their failure to adequately undertake their mandate places Kenyans at unconscionable risk. That is precisely why when we hear that it’s leadership is on trial for corruption or bribery, our hearts stop, and panic grips every fibre of our souls.

It’s no doubt that the job of leading the agency is no easy fit, because for the last eight or so years, none of its executive leaders have retained their positions to the end of their renewable tenure. Five CEOs have suffered this very fate and now another one is about to bite the dust. Within a span of just one year, the agency is currently on its third managing director since the exit of Charles Ongwae sometimes last year. The current, Bernard Njiraini, was appointed in June of 2019 in an acting capacity after allegations of corruption paved way for the exit of Mr. Ongwae who prior to KEBS, headed Barclays Bank (Uganda).

Before Ongwae, the agency was headed by Bernard Nguyo, and Moses Ikiara who was then the CEO Kenya Investment Authority before him. They were both appointed in acting capacity after their predecessors prematurely exit on corruption charges before they too suffered the same fate.

At the time of his exit, Mr. Ikiara noted that there seems to be external forces that are vouching for a specific candidate whose appointment has not yet seen the light of day.

The current acting MD Bernard Njiraini too has another executive job, where he is the boss of the Numerical Machining Complex (NMC) just like his predecessor who was running two institutions in the same capacity.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigation is still probing the agency over the alleged importation of poisonous sugar and fertiliser. All this is happening while the fight it has been having with small-scale traders whose goods are stuck at the Mombasa port do not seem to cede either.

Additionally, It also has to deal with numerous instances of substandard goods that are imported or locally manufactured as well as the use of poisonous preservatives in food. Its current management, however, says it is well equipped to handle imports as well as undertake policing of local manufacturers to ensure they meet set standards and ensure only quality goods come into the market.

While Mr. Njiraini was getting arrested, Mr. Ongwae was in court answering to charges of abuse of office and conspiracy to deny the government tax revenue.

Eva Oduor, Ongwae’s predecessor was suspended over gross misconduct and the agency’s failed Ksh. 1.3 billion laboratory project in Mombasa.

Koskey on the other hand learnt of his impending sacking through the ministry of Industrialisation and opted to step aside as a result.

In September of 2009, the then KEBS CEO Mang’eli also stepped aside following his long stand off with Francis Muthaura who was at the time the head of public service, which narrative sort of gives credence to the allegations of Ikiara.

Mang’eli had been at the helm of the agency longer than any of his predecessors and even those who came after him. He left the standards body on allegations of illegal hiring and corruption, as well as a faking of a payslip to justify his high pay. He was replaced by Joel Kioko in an acting capacity before Joseph Koskey was appointed as a substantive MD.

Koskey was shown the door in 2011 only one year after his appointment. Of course the appointments and dismissals are suspect given Dr. Mangeli’s remarks and it is possible that politics are at play here. That however down not exonorate the accused. It is only a matter of time before the truth comes out as always.

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