Parliament orders Tobiko to reinstate sacked forestry officers

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By Kenya Confidential Environmental Affairs Editor, Nairobi, May 7, 2018

When forest grabber was sued by Narok County Council, Tobiko, as Director of Public Prosecutions, ensured the public custodian lost cases and the grabber was awarded huge sums of money from taxpayers coffers – suffering double jeopardy

Amid reports that Environment and Forestry Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko could soon be shown the door out gather momentum, Parliamentary Departmental Committee on Environment and Natural Resources has ruled that Kenya Forest Service Service senior managers suspended on his orders should be reinstated immediately.

The committee in a report tabled before the National Assembly last Thursday said the suspension of KFS senior managers was “done illegally and unprocedurally by the Chairman of KFS Board”. The illegal sacking orders were issued by Tobiko the moment he became minister without any consultations, investigation or reference to set out rules.

Taking orders from Tobiko the Chairman of Kenya Forest Service Board of Directors Peter Kinyua, the Committee noted “acted in contravention of law and guiding principles such as Mwongozo Code of Governance for State Corporations. For instance, the Board Chairperson suspended KFS officers without regard to the KFS Human Resource Manual, the State Corporations Act, (Cap. 446) and the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016,”.

The Kenya Forest Service Board is now on the spot for unprocedurally sending home senior officials. KFS Chairman said most of the officials sent on compulsory leave were yet to receive letters. He acted like a robot remotely controlled and directed by Tobiko, who has a stone to grind with those may question his past in matters environmental degradation. His law firm Tobiko & Associates aided the grabbing of 8,000 acres of Maasai Forest and Maasai Mara national Reserve by one Livingstone Kunini ole Ntutu.When the grabber was sued by Narok County Council Tobiko, as Director of Public Prosecutions, ensured the public custodian lost cases and the grabber was awarded huge sums of money from taxpayers coffers – suffering double jeopardy.

Chief conservator Emilio Mugo was replaced by Monica Kalenda. The Parliamentary Committee on Environment reads mischief in the changes. Tobiko was supposed to appear before it, however, he sent PS Charles Sunkuli to represent him. He was flanked by Kalenda and acting head of administration and HR Alex Lemarkoko. Tobiko developed cold feet on learning that some members of the committee would inquire into his role in aiding grabbing of thousands of Mau and Maasai Mara Forest land.

The committee said KFS board chairperson was essentially performing the duties of the organization’s management and KFS Board. “He acted as though he was an executive Chairperson which he was not. The Chairperson of the Board unilaterally made decisions on behalf of the Board and did not afford an opportunity to be heard to those affected by the suspension. There was no formal Board meeting that was held as required by the law and the Mwongozo Code of Governance for State Corporations before the affected senior officers were sent on compulsory leave,” part of the report says.

Additionally, the committee said in the report that Kinyua contravened the law by running a hotel inside the Karura forest, in a move that led to a conflict of interest.”The Chairperson of the Board operated a private hotel at Karura Forest. There was an illegality in the collection of revenue at Karura Forest by the “Friends of Karura” instead of the KFS. This was in violation of the Public Finance Management Act, 2012,” the board said.

Kinyua while appearing before the committee admitted that the hotel was being run by his wife.However, he said, the hotel was in operation one and a half year before he was appointed to join the board.  A board member, however, confided to the the media that the hotel generates at least Ksh 5 million shillings that never goes to KFS. “The gate and other activities alone generates Ksh 42 million per year. These monies are never accounted for neither remitted to the government through KFS,”a board.

Chief Conservator of Forests, Emilio Mugo was suspended on March 12 after Tibiko’s inspection tour tour of Thogoto Forest, Ngong Road Forest, Oloolua Forest and Kibiko Forest. The Cabinet Secretary did not want to know from the forests chief what was the root cause of massive destruction eating away forests in Kenya.

Emilio Mugo: Victim of Tobiko’s emotional wrath denied natural justice

Senior Manager, Finance and Administration Patrick Nyaga was sent on compulsory leave commencing on February 26 to pave way for investigations into allegations of non-facilitation of field operations especially with regard to vehicle maintenance and fueling. His letter was signed by the KFS Board chairman, the committee report says.

Assistant Chief Conservator of Forests, North Rift  Dedan Gatiki was interdicted for gross misconduct through a letter dated March 14. The interdiction was on account of allowing a debt of Sh 40,500,000 to accrue in Elgeyo Marakwet County without taking any action. His letter was signed by Kinyua.

Other officers suspended are Boniface Simiyu, Deputy Chief Conservator of Forests, Plantations and Enterprise, Francis Kariuki, Assistant Chief Conservator of Forests (Eastern Conservancy, Embu) and Cosmas Ikiugu, Assistant Chief Conservator of Forests (Central Highlands).

A report by a committee appointed by Tobiko on taking office skirted around grabbing of thousands of hectares of forest land by prominent Moi era politicians led by former president himself. The wanton grabbing saw key water tower Mau Forest reduced to private tea plantations that the committee did not recommend to be surrendered back to public or compulsorily acquired.

Public plantation forest areas occupy 135,871 Ha and are distributed in 24 Counties across the country. These forests generate over Sh3 Billion annually to the exchequer in form of revenues and support the development of the wood-based industries.

One of the key strategies being used in Forest Plantation development was Shamba system which had been rebranded and renamed Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS). The Scheme allowed forest adjacent communities to grow food crops as Kenya Forest Service establishes forest plantations. There are 23,621Ha currently under PELIS providing food to 450,000 House Holds.

Among those who gave their submissions to the committee include Nakuru County, Governor, Lee Kinyanjui, Nyandarua County Governor Francis Kimemia, Nyandarua County Ecosystem Conservator Jenniffer Situma, Timber Manufacturers Association Chairman Benson  Kimani, Walter Ogada, a representative of Timsales Limited and Members of the Community Forest Associations. Environment and Forestry, CS Keriako Tobiko also gave submissions.

The committee observed that countries like Uganda, Vietnam, Colombia and Uruguay had embraced private commercial plantations with a proper enabling environment and good policies which increased the forest cover in those countries and attracted investments in the industry.

It also observed that Community Forest Association consisting of people living around the forest played a key role in forest conservation and management. However, despite many dedicated years of service and hard labour in forest conservation, they reaped very little from their efforts. With these challenges, some CFAs tended to collude with the forest rangers in forest destruction.

Further, the committee observed that the KFS, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Water Tower Agency had their shared mandate in the forest resulting in a conflict of function among the three agencies.

The committee has recommended that KFS withdraws from commercial plantations and gradually converts the 134,000 hectares of commercial plantation into the natural forest by restoring the cleared land with indigenous trees. Subsequently, the Executive should create new natural forest boundaries with Nyayo Tea Zones in order to create buffer zones.

It has also tasked Environment and Forestry ministry to provide incentives, enabling policies and other relevant interventions to private commercial forest plantation in order to increase the forest cover and to promote timber industry.

KEFRI and KFS should be adequately funded and supported to develop high quality indigenous and exotic tree seedlings and nurseries in order to restore government forest land and to promote private commercial plantation. On forest Degradation, punitive penalties should be entrenched in law to curb forest destruction and illegal logging.

Further, the committee says, Forest Conservation and Management Act (No. 34 of 2016) should be amended to provide for punitive penal provisions.  The committee says Kenya should take advantage and claim carbon credits to help in her efforts at a forest and general ecosystem conservation.

A report by the Tobiko Task Force that investigated forest activities released on Monday last week showed Kenya’s major water towers has been massively destructed due to excision, settlements established without following due process, encroachment, illegal logging and unsustainable grazing.

The report recommended that the Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC) to investigate notorious land grabbers. Tobiko himself should be among those to be prosecuted having aided the grabbing of thousands of Mau and Maasai Mara Forests and Maasai Mara National Reserve both as a lawyer and Director of Public Prosecutions in furtherance of his selfish financial gains.

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