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The Game of Thrones At JKUAT University

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A determined council chair keen to stamp her authority, a vice-chancellor clutching onto the law and a deputy VC caught in between. This is the unfolding situation at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

A report by The Standard describes what insiders are defining it as the game of musical chairs. University Council Chair Gumato Yatani has re-appointed Prof Bernard Moirongo to take over as Deputy VC in charge of Finance in an acting capacity for a period of six months, pending full appointment.

Prof Moirongo was the substantive DVC but his term ended last year. Prof Jackson Kwanza had been acting DVC Finance as the university hunted for a substantive one.

Prof. Ngumi (left) hands over to Prof. Moirongo. Source: JKUAT

But now, Dr Yatani wants Moirongo to go back to his former post, this time in an acting capacity for six months, as the Council processes his full appointment for five more years with the Public Service Commission (PSC).

But Vice-Chancellor Victoria Ngumi will have none of it. In between her and Yatani, letters have been flying in the last few weeks, and the impasse has no sign of ending soon.

“On behalf of JKUAT and with approval of CS Education, I am pleased to appoint you the DVC Finance, for a period of six months, pending confirmation of a substantive appointment to the position once concurrence of Public Service Commission is received,” Yatani’s appointment letter to Moirongo reads.

He was to take over on July 1, but that was not to be. A full council meeting held on July 13 raised the issue of Moirongo’s assumption of office, noting that it had been “delayed for reasons that are neither clear nor acceptable”.

File image of acting Vice chancellor Victoria Ngumi. Source: The Standard

“Please urgently confirm that the Acting DVC Finance has taken over the office to allow the management and Council to focus on the many urgent matters, not least how to resolve the university’s parlous financial state. Let me have the confirmation not later than 5 pm on Monday, July 20, 2020,” Yatani’s July 17 letter to Prof Ngumi reads.

According to Yatani, the matter of appointment of DVCs in charge administration, academic affairs and finance had been concluded. The first two had been filled by Prof Benard Ikua and Prof Robert Kinyua after getting recommendations from the PSC.

But for finance, and in a curious move, the “Council advised the PSC, through and with the concurrence of the Ministry for Education, of its decision to reappoint Prof Bernard Otoki Moirongo, as DVC Finance for a period of 5 years with effect from July 1, 2020.”

July 20 came and Prof Moirongo had still not taken over, either as acting or substantive DVC. Instead, Ngumi wrote a letter, blaming a protracted hand-over for the delay. She also demanded a letter from the PSC appointing Prof Moirongo to the position.

Two days later, Yatani fired another warning shot, dismissing the reasons advanced for the delay in the transition.

“The handing over process cannot be as complicated as you would like to put it. After all, Prof Moirongo has been out of that office for just a couple of months and he is not new to the functions of that office, which he has held for the last five years,” she wrote.

Also, she informed the VC that she had learned that the acting Prof Kwanza had finalised his handover a week before and was ready to report back to his former station. Before being appointed acting DVC, Prof Kwanza, was the principal Karen campus.

“The Ministry of Education is in full concurrence of the decision and the letter from the PSC should not be a hindrance to having Prof Moirongo assume the office of DVC in an acting capacity as it is only to concur with the Council decision,” Yatani wrote.

She proceeded to issue what she described as the “final Council instructions”: “Facilitate Prof Moirongo to take over with immediate effect. Failure to effect this instruction will be regarded as an act of insubordination on your part, with all the potential attendant consequences.”

It would seem that the extension of closure of universities by Prof. George Magoha on Thursday July 30 to January 2021 from the aforementioned September 2020 has allowed top officials at the university to settle their squabbles as the Battle for the Throne rolls on.

Still, JKUAT faces another problem in the form of its decision to purchase a building in Nairobi’s city centre without paying Value Added Tax (VAT) on Friday July 31.

The institution finds itself in trouble after the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) moved in to investigate the acquisition of ICEA Building on Kenyatta Avenue in 2015.

According to The Standard, the deal was sealed under the watch of Prof Mabel Imbuga, who has since retired as vice-chancellor of the university and her place filled by Prof Victoria Ngumi.

Earlier this year, the EACC wrote to Ngumi seeking documents related to the sale.

The ICEA Lion Life Assurance Company took JKUAT to court, claiming the university had failed to pay VAT on the transaction, which saw the tax bill accumulate to Ksh381 million.

The letter to the university VC from EACC, dated February 26, summoned five officers from various departments for questioning.

Reference is made to the above subject matter, pursuant to on-going investigations in respect to acquisition of ICEA building during the financial year 2014/2015 by your institution,” read the letter.

The EACC required Titus Wasike (finance officer), Muchai Mbugua (registrar admin), Dr Wario Guyo (deputy director Nairobi CBD campus), Dr Florence Mwaura (director Nairobi CBD campus) and Richard Wokabi (legal officer) to appear at the Integrity Centre for questioning as well as record statements over the sale.

This followed another letter, which had requested two officers – Hellen Karu (estate department) and Susan Bhukala (chief procurement officer) to appear before EACC officers.

EACC Headquarters at Integrity Centre in Nairobi. Source: File

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