Kabale Arero: Matron of Impunity at National Land Commission

12 mins read

The National Land Commission is a toxic work environment.

This is is a story of a criminal the Kenyan court has already convicted but who remains on the job because of the current reign of impunity in Kenya.

It is also a story of women CEOs who are terrible administrators, and who would go at any length to sabotage, manipulate, hurt and destroy the careers of others within their organizations while passing themselves as good examples of “women in leadership”.

It is also the challenge of having people with questionable academic integrity in senior government positions as Ms. Arero is alleged to have a dubious (fake) university degree.

Ms. Arero became acting CEO of NLC following the hounding out of the office of then substantive CEO Tom Chavangi. For a brief period before she took over, Prof. David Kuria, the then NLC Director of National Land Information System, took charge.

The National Land Commission was established in Feb 2013 with 9 Commissioners led by the Chair Prof. Swazuri and Vice-Chair Abigail Mbagaya. Other Commissioners included: Dr. Rose Musyoka; Dr. Tomik Konyimbih; Dr. Lenashuru; Dr Tororei; Khalif Abdulkadir; Ms. Emma Njogu and Silas Kinoti. Their trenchant 6-year term ended in February 2019.

From February 2013, all staff employed in NLC worked on contractual terms. Most Directors were employed from 1st October 2013 to serve a 5-year contract, ending on 30th September 2018 or thereafter.

June 2014 – June 2019, the NLC’s first Strategic Plan is approved and begins the implementation process. In June 2017, the Commissioners and the CEO began the process of conversion of all staff terms from 5-year Contracts to Permanent and Pensionable (P&P) terms.

In 2018, the Principal Secretary, Ministry of Lands & Physical Planning wrote to staff seconded to the NLC, directing them to decide between staying at the Commission on Contractual terms or returning to the Ministry where they were serving on P&P terms. Failure to so elect either of the two options would render many staff services terminated.

Staff seconded from other Ministries and State Agencies also faced this situation.  

To avert a crisis in its work, in May 2018, all staff terms were converted from Contract to P & P terms. The CEO Chavangi issued letters of conversion in June 2018. By June 2018 none of the Directors’ 1st Contract had lapsed, and all opted for P&P terms. As required of them, many cleared from their previous government work agencies to stay at the NLC under P&P terms.

In July 2018, a pension scheme was opened and the NLC deducted and remitted contributions for all Directors. August 2018, Chair, NLC Prof. Swazuri; CEO Tom Chavangi; Director Finance Mugo and Director Valuation & Compensation Dr. Munubi and others were arrested over graft allegations.

From Aug 2018 to Feb 2019, the authoritarian Vice-Chair Abigail Mbagaya took leadership of the NLC with the suspension of then Chair Muhammed Swazuri. With the arrests and the charging, the EACC wrote to the NLC noting that staff on statutory suspension due to ongoing corruption cases, to receive half of their basic pay and their rights should not be violated.

The EACC directive was to cater for directors Mugo and Munubi who had been arrested and charged alongside Swazuri and CEO Chavangi.

With the exit of Chavangi, NLC appointed Prof. David Kuria, then Director of National Land Information System- NLIMS, as acting CEO.

With the high-handed Abigail Mbakaya now in full control, the remaining commissioners were coerced to remove the P&P terms and revert the director’s terms of employment to contractual terms. By this time, the directors had served for six months under permanent and pensionable terms.

Fragrantly illegal, the directors who had been affected moved to court to challenge the decision, except Arero Kabale, then HR Director, and a Khalid Salim.

Arero had formed a close working relationship with Mbakaya. Through intimidation, some directors who had co-lodged the court petition withdrew, opting to toe the line. For their cowardice, their terms were renewed for a further term of five years.

Prof. Kuria who supported the petition was removed as acting CEO, paving way for the pliant Arero to take charge.

Four directors however stayed in the courts. Thus begun a campaign of intimidation, toxic frustrations, and ultimate denial of their rights to fair employment benefits.

In February 2019, Mbakaya’s term ended and NLC was now substantively run by acting CEO Arero. She would run the commission for almost a year, as no new commissioners were immediately appointed with the end of the Swazuri-Mbakaya era.

Among the pending issues for Arero was the fate of the four directors – Leornard Omullo, Dr. Fabian Lukalo, Dr. Salome Munubi, and Francis Mugo – who had lodged a case to challenge the variation of their employment terms.

You will recall that Arero had declined to join the case, and had become the main beneficiary with her ascension to the helm of NLC.

With the lack of commissioners, Arero also now assumed full decision-making authority on behalf of the commission. Thus begun her reign of terror to purge the commission of the four rights-seekers.

In March 2019, Arero struck the 4 Directors from the payroll and stopped their salaries and all other remunerations. She also struck them off the NLC medical scheme. Ignominiously, she locked their offices too.

In May 2019, however, the four directors won against NLC at the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The ELRC court reaffirmed the employment status of the 4 Directors and ordered their reinstatement on a 5-year contract with no interference or victimization of their employment rights.

Arero contemptuously ignored the court order.

For Directors Mugo and Dr. Munubi who were on statutory suspension, the court had ordered they be paid their half-salary as is the practice in the public service when one is charged.

For Leonard Omullo and Dr. Lukalo, Arero declined – for no apparent reason other than vendetta – to reinstate them to their work. She also declined to pay them their salaries, allowances and reinstate their medical scheme.

Frustrated, the four directors returned to court to force Arero to obey the court’s order. In October, Arero was cited for contempt of court and fined Ksh 300,000.

Even though she paid the fine, she approached the court to purge the order, hiring Ahmednasir Abdulahi.

In November 2019, the second team of Commissioners led by Chair Gershom Otachi and Vice-Chair Getrude Nduku-Nguku began their 6-year term. Other members appointed included Reginald Okumu, Prof. James K. Tuitoek, Hubbie Hussein Al-Haji, Alister Murimi Mutugi, Esther Murugi and Dr. Tiya Galgalo.

Like happens in most commissions, the new commissioners quickly settled to their per diems and seeing a leeway to employ their own people, went quiet on the issue of the four commissioners. They started restructuring of the commission and downgrading some directorates.

In June 2020, over one year after the May 2019 ruling from the ELRC, the NLC through FKE lawyers filed an appeal No. 248 of 2020 at the Court of Appeal, seeking to dismiss the ELRC Petition 8 of 2019.

The two Court of Appeal cases Nos. 196 and 248 lodged against the 4 Directors’ employment at NLC were consolidated and ran the course, presided over by The President of the CoA Justice Musinga; Justice Kiage and Justice Karanja. 

On 4th February 2022, the Civil Appeal No. 196 of 2020. which was the Arero’s appeal on her contempt charge was dismissed. The import of this dismissal was that she had been well-cited for contempt. The 4 Directors cross-appeal succeeded and the NLC was once again ordered to pay the 4 Directors their dues for the 5-year contract period subject to the retirement age of 60 years.

Again for Omullo and Dr. Lukalo their 5-year contract payments were to be fully honoured by the NLC. Mugo and Dr. Munubi to be paid their half salary. Importantly, the Court of Appeal found that the rights of the four directors had been violated.

‘A declaration of the of violation of the respondents’ constitutional rights will send the message to the appellant that its employees have rights, which should be respected and failure to do so has dire consequences’.

At the time of writing this story, the four directors were yet to be paid.

CEO Kabale Arero, with a fake degree from Kenyatta University, still runs the National Land Commission like her kitchen.

Worse, NLC Chairman Gershom Ottachi, a lawyer and officer of the court, presides over this impunity.

The picture one gets is that even though the justice system in Kenya works, albeit slowly, impunity by public officials needs stronger sanctions. Public officials full of impunity need to serve long jail terms.

Independent Commissions need proper oversight else they become graveyards of people’s careers.

The sum total of it is that the public will lose money to legally compensate professionals whose services were never utilized appropriately as public officials like Arero go scot-free, without ever having to pay for their malfeasance.

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