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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 21 September 2014

SCAMS SET TO BRING DOWN WILDLIFE INSTITUTE



Staff and students at Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute are up in arms with the long-serving principal, Prof George Otiang’a-Owiti and now want him not only exit but be investigated by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission for corrupt activities which may soon bring down one of the most reputed tourism-institutions in East and Central Africa.

Calling themselves “Orphans of KWSTI”, some of the staff and students who volunteered to talk to  Weekly Citizen, confided that while they look forward to the principal leaving on his own volition, they strongly appeal to the government anti-corruption body to immediately launch investigations into the principal alleged frivolous activities that have made him untouchable and an institution unto himself.

As a proof that all is not well at KWSTI, they said that a few weeks ago, leaflets were dropped at the offices of Naivasha-based institute that warned the principal of dire consequences should he ignore the growing impatience by staff and students who want him to leave sooner than later. The leaflets claimed that for more than the 15 years he has remained at the helm, he has not paid any dividends and therefore, he should leave.

Multiple sources revealed that lots of unpalatable accusations are levelled against the man and they include what they described as unequal treatment of staff and rampant ‘divide and rule’ tactics entrenched for the sole purpose of intimidating staff. They gave an example where he allegedly appointed an assistant lecturer to head sections and units at the institute leaving out existing lecturers. He is accused of not displaying skills of a team leader and instead creating two centres of power, one of loyalists who double up as informers and the other of the so-called rebels whom he disdains and label them ‘politicians’.

They claim that he has tendency of dictatorship and is used to dishing out warning letters and charge sheets and even apply physical harassment. At one time, the principal is alleged to have physically assaulted a tourism officer whom he later transferred to another station. Members of staff accuse him of allegedly making inappropriate advances towards female rangers as any denial to his advances would be at their own peril.

According to sources at both Naivasha and KWSTI headquarters in Nairobi, the Kenya Wildlife Service management under director-general William Kiprono may have blundered for not taming Otiang’a-Owiti, hence allowing him the wide leverage of coming up with new designs which are likely to hurt its appendage KWSTI. They point to the fact that KWS should not have given in to the dictates and whims of Otiang’a-Owiti, particularly when he recently disagreed with his immediate deputy on matters of principle, Prof Fredrick Kasili, now operates from KWS headquarters as an assistant director.  Weekly Citizen was unable to get comment from Kasili as all the time he reportedly was busy or attending a seminar. But the principal was adamant when reached on phone and declined to comment.

Trouble for Kasili, a scientist and scholar from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology department of Biology, started in 2009 after taking up the plum job at KWSTI and with support of scholars at KWST, initiated radical reforms which were aimed at enabling the institution make a major leap to international standards.

 His first step, and, acting within the docket assigned to him by KWSTI management, was to recommend the shelving of plans to have University of Nairobi, where Otiang’a-Owiti teaches on part-time basis, take over courses at KWSTI and probably at a later date convert it into its constituent college. But during a meeting when the matter would have been finalised, Kasili who was attending the meeting for the first time is reported to have argued that the move was improper at that stage as this would have deprived KWSTI of its sobriety and academic independence that was so crucial to a unique institution such as KWSTI. It is reported this did not go down well with the principal who felt an earlier decision he had nurtured was being unfairly challenged.

Another crucial decision that pitted Kasili against the principal, sources say, was a proposal he sold to his academic colleagues as well as KWS management, that of introducing of new courses as part of ongoing curriculum review process and as he went a step further when he initiated the practice where students at KWSTI would for the first time access past examination papers to aid them before sitting their examinations. It is reported that during an academic meeting, Kasili made a recommendation which was accepted that students should only be allowed to graduate after completing the entire curriculum and also submitting a research project, something that was never adhered to in the past.

 But what might have broken the camel’s back according to an impeccable source was Kasili’s recommendation during an academic meeting that the Kenya Institute of Education should, as a matter of course, be brought on board whenever the curriculum review process was being developed. It is understood the principal could not stomach any more of the so-called radical reforms and consequently had him moved to KWS headquarters where he is allegedly languishing. The funniest thing is that in Kasili’s absence, the principal brought in a non-academic in the name of Peter Leitoro, a career security officer, and it is understood that no sooner did Leitoro land at the station than  he put in a request to be allowed to continue with his studies and he thereafter left.

 Staff morale is said to be at its lowest ebb due to alleged demoralisation and de-motivation. The institute has been without a deputy principal for more than 14 months now from the time the holder of office was sent packing. A former student who preferred anonymity alleged that the principal lacks professional integrity and narrated how he goes even to the extent of demanding class notes from students and uses them for plagiarism purposes.

He alleged that the principal has the audacity to use information gleaned from experts elsewhere and armed with this vital information will present himself,  at one time as wildlife management expert, or climate change expert, wetlands expert, tourism expert etc. He is said to loathe intellectual challenge and this may explain why he is the only doctor of philosophy degree holder at the institution after sending packing at least four young PhD holders.

Other accusations against the principal include his disregard for KWS rules of staff engagement concerning temporary recruitment. The sources cited a practice where engagement of temporary staff is shrouded in mystery because of nepotism, favouritism and tribalism. Signing of contract is done at the end and not beginning of contract period like it is in other KWS stations. The contracts are on a monthly basis contrary to KWS standard of three months. He is accused of making decisions that have portrayed KWS in unfavourable light.

An example is the dismissal of KWSTI lecturer who has since taken KWS to court. For the period he has been principal he has not constructed a single extra classroom and for this reason, students are required to pay a fee of over Sh75,000 per semester of six months to learn in a tent. Staff claims they have never noticed him proceed for leave but has always stayed around where he acts as a clerk, signing for tissue paper or biro pens to be issued from the store for distribution to members of staff. He has standing orders that all payslips must be brought to him before being released to respective individual employees.