The Kenya Agricultural Research Sector started in 2013 with a promising future. With the rolling out and enactment of the Karl Act of 2013 already concluded, it was expected to be implemented immediately to steer the sector into the future and there was no shortage of expectations.
When Jubile came to power, the cabinet secretary of Agriculture moved fast to name an interim management committee made up of technocrats to implement the Act and also to set up the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation ball rolling by merging the four agricultural research bodies in the ministry. The team popularly known as IMC was housed outside the four institutes but worked closely with them. These institutes were Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Kenya Sugar Research Foundation, Coffee Research Foundation and Tea Research Foundation all of which had their respective boards of management and mandate independent of each other.
In July 2013, all the tenures of boards of the former institutes came to an end and the CS for agriculture operationalised the Kalro Act of 2013 by placing the four under the IMC and appointed an interim director general for the new institution called Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization. The Director General, Eliud Kireger, was formerly the Director of Tea Research Foundation based in Kericho. He moved in quickly to set up an interim
management team to guide KALRO in the merger process expected to last about a year. In his initial address, he promised staff new harmonised terms of service since the institutes had very different salaries and allowances in existence then. Little did the Forestry Trainer realise that this promise was a poisoned chalice.
Six months into service, Acting Director General, Dr Kireger realised that running the new organisation was no walk in the park. For starters, former Kari and Kesref had poor terms of service with researchers earning from Sh35,000 to Sh98,000 through three grades of researcher, senior researcher and principal researcher while CRF and TRF scientists earned basic pay of between Sh62,000 and Sh152,000 with those of Tea Research being better remunerated.
A study of the educational background revealed that Kari had the better trained scientists with most of them holding PhDs which is the minimum qualification international donors prefer for lead or principal investigators in research projects.
The worst was yet to come as the new management realised that Kari staff had not gotten harmonised pay given by the PNU government in July 2012. Instead, Kari through its director Mukisira awarded senior management staff then assistant directors and centre directors, two job groups ranging from Sh100,620 to Sh127,980 for the centre directors and Sh147,679 to Sh252,025 for assistant directors placing them at par with the deputy directors.
Most staff still wonder why Dr Mukisira has not been arrested by the Ethic and Anti-Corruption Commission for misappropriating funds this way. This action has created dissent within Kari which, he had promised to silence through implementing new SRC approved terms in July 2013 that unfortunately were overtaken by the merger. Poor Kesref and Kari staff both in research and support units find themselves disadvantaged in a merger that only promised new pay, first in year 2014 July and September, then in March 2015 and now July 2015. To run the day to day affairs of a bigger organisation, Kiregrer has resorted to hide and seek games that have given him mixed results. He keeps on promising new terms and funds for activities even when he knows that these are going to be available and finally he has an impatient staff because Kari and Kesref staffs form over 90pc of the 3,400 Karlo staff. Kireger no longer sits through whole meetings because of fear of questions. The loss of some key staff such as the former Kari deputy director for finance and administration who served for a short while as interim corporate manager has exacerbated issues even further.
The terms for the bulk of the staff are so poor that most of them irrespective of cadre can be described as hawkers. Staff members even those with PhDs envy current teachers’ pay but prefer to only talk of a future that is promising. The current terms no longer bear any resemblance with those of public service at all. The interim bosses are poor managers and if the organisation has to rely on them first to stabilise the organisation before moving forward, it will be a tall order.
Within the centres, scientists no longer conduct research on centre research farms but prefer to go to the field and earn nightouts to make ends meet.
In some centres, they compete with their employer to supply farmers with seedlings, milk, honey tea, fruits and so forth to raise an extra coin. It is the same scenario at the headquarters, where all comes to a standstill as one observes staff stream in the morning most of them carrying heavy bags containing anything from packed lunch to merchandise for sale to fellow workers or those of nearby institutions.
The struggles the staff go through happen right under the nose of the management who can hardly do anything. Staff morale is rock bottom and attempts of corruption especially in procurement and other units are high as gullible staff attempt to tender and supply goods using fronts of companies that pay back handsomely to their minders. Supervisors are not spared either, they ask for kitu kidogo as members of staff are allowed to absent themselves for long durations without being questioned. To cap it all, there was allegations of corruption in the manner interviews for interim positions were done. Within the now disbanded IME, some few members were placed and retained on the institute’s payrolls that are yet to be harmonised. Some have stayed and others have left for greener pastures.
While all this rot is playing out, little or no information is available to staff except through circulars released to staff by the interim DG and managers. From the outside, the organisations look intact but to insiders, it is just like but a heap of cards about to scatter.
While one may think that the payroll of the merged organisation is no longer growing, this is no so anymore. There are new staff employed by the interim board and a cartel of the new management and most of them are in former Kari and TRF payrolls. What irks the old employees is that the new employees, most of them cronies and relatives of IMC and management is that they have been placed on higher scales despite low qualifications.
Asked by staff why Kalro staff cannot be assured of good salaries in future, the chair of IMC Ali Daud Mohammed said that the allocation of money by government to Kalro was the key determinant. When some Kalro Katumani staff pushed him further, he told them that they should ask their local MPs to take up the issue with the parliament budgetary committee headed by Mutava Musyimi who is a resident of a neighboring county. To prove his ineptitude, many staff complain that he never lobbies Treasury and parliament but prefers to send greenhorns such as Joseph Mureithi, Felister Makini who have little knowledge on finances and general management and the new kid on the block Mr Kikwai.
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