Lessons from Maasai Mara University Heist Justify Whistle-Blowing as the Mainstream Culture in Our Future organizations
In 2018, the Citizen Television in Kenya collaborated with a whistle-blower, Spencer Sankale, to bring to the attention of the public a feature story revealing how people in top management are misappropriating funds at Maasai Mara University. Though it was presented as a feature, but the story had a lot of element of news. This story led to series of reactions among the pertinent agencies to make response which led to changes in management and leadership of the Maasai Mara University. Some of the implicated officers were arrested and then arraigned face charges at the criminal court. The case was still underway by the time of writing this article.
Court procedures and the Kenya constitution required those implicated to step aside. They did so, hence the acting Vice Chancellor was brought in to oversee the running of the university. Two years later, the university again degenerated back to the old experience of unfair use of the university resources and finances by the new top leadership. The new top leadership did this after trying to establish institutional structures that can muffle Spencer Sankale from making any further whistle-blowing efforts. However, Sankale who was working then as an accountant went ahead to blow the whistle, uncovering unfair payments, unfair hiring and employee promotion practices. The top leadership reacted by summary dismissal of Sankale for no other reason but for whistleblowing.
However, the letter from the university council communicating summary dismissal of Sankale citied insubordination, cyberbullying, insolence, disrespecting the colleagues as well as libel and defamation against the employer. Even though, these grounds mentioned in the letter of Sankale’s dismissal are of criminal nature but they had not yet been established by any court of law with criminal jurisdiction by the time of the summary dismissal . Again without wavering in its moral duty of social responsibility, the Citizen Television again stepped in to bring to the attention of the public that Spencer Sankale had been summarily dismissed on the basis of far-fetched criminal allegations against him.
The public and the civil society did not take Maasai Mara University’s act of summary dismissal of Spencer Sankale lightly. All the civil Societies responded by demanding that Sankale be reinstated to his job, the allegations of corruption at the university be investigated and they also promised to provide legal support in spirit of protecting Spencer Sankale as a whistle-blower. Notable among the civil societies were; Transparency International, Amnesty International and the Institute of the Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK). These three institutions gave a written demand to the council of Maasai Mara University and to all other pertinent agencies requesting the setting aside of summary dismissal of Spencer Sankale, they condemned the summary dismissal as unconstitutional, un-lawful, immoral and recklessly perpetrated public contradiction to the spirit of good governance supposed to have moral obligations to respect whistle-blowing. The same was the position and stand taken by the Kenya Universities Staff Union. At community level, the Maa Speaking Unity Agenda (MUA), a community-based organization with focus on protecting public institutions within the geographical regions Maa speaking society from corrupt leadership also stepped in by asking the university council to reinstate Spencer Sankale. The Maa Speaking Unity Agenda also send a written demand to the President of Kenya to ensure that Spencer Sankale is provided with security, lest he dies mysteriously the way Ole Sadera, the whistle-blower in the matter of Goldenberg scandal disappeared and died mysteriously during the hey days of the Goldenberg Scandal some three decades ago. Just like Spencer Sankale, the late Ole Sadera also came from the Maa speaking communities of Kenya.
Most phenomenal was the timely intervention by the top leadership at the Ethics and Anti-corruption (EACC), Kenya’s Anti-corruption institution, which strongly argued that the government cannot fight corruption without support from the whistle-blowers. The EACC also blamed the government for failing to put in place the whistle-blower protection law, but still it demanded that Sankale be allowed back to his job as the investigation into allegations of corruption at Maasai Mara University goes on.
Just as Count Leo Tolstoy would put it, ‘it began as a spark but now it has matured into huge bush-fire,’ it is true that Maasai Mara University heist was sparked by an insignificant employee at a junior level by choosing to whistle-blow, but this was a spark of a bold step that will obviously influence the future of our thoughts about whistle-blowing and work-place. Truly, Spencer Sankale’s actions are epoch-making. However, to those of us that are focused on how to achieve good governance in our developing economies in Africa, we must accept the good words of Leo Tolstoy but also learn that the Maasai Mara University Heist has a lot of positive lessons. The main lesson is ‘the value of whistle-blowing in fight corruption to protect community and public resources. It is now observable and inferred that without timely whistle-blowing the tax-payers money and resources would have been depleted to a pathetic state at Maasai Mara University. But, now there must be fear and caution, misappropriations must be on a pause at Maasai Mara University.
Those of us who are familiar with Economic history of Kenya we can realize that it was poverty of effective whistle-blowing as well as poverty of effective community watch-dog machinery that led to collapse of heavily capitalized corporations like Mumias Sugar Company, Pan African Paper Mills, Kenya-Re, Kenya Cooperative Creameries and many other tax-funded governments owned corporations that were looted to death in the past three decades. Now, the communities that used to depend on this organizations are living in appalling state of poverty and economic despair.
When you read Forty Years of Looting and then also The Fall of Dynasties, the last two books by Joe Khamis, there is a very strong motif that Kenya is not poor because of colonialism but instead Kenya is poor because of collective lack of respect for the community and public resources by the privileged class. Thus, you and I have dutiful obligations to think about how we can fight corruption. One of the ways of achieving war on endemic corruption in Africa is to nurture work-place leadership and culture that finds heroism in whistle-blowing so that we can influence the political class to make the laws that strongly protect whistle-blowers. Such work-place culture can breed and sustain economic viability and social welfare in our developing economies.
In Kenya of today, substantial public attitude towards a whistle-blower is negative. An average Kenyan looks at a whistle-blower as a betrayer, a sale-out, a she-man and so on. But, unfortunately, Kenyans are ready to vote for a politician that has a lot of money without caring to know whether the money was gotten through stealing public resources or not. This culture has to be reversed. It is our time to know that a whistle-blower is a revolutionary, is a comrade of the people, is a friend of the poor, is as valuable as our teacher, nurse, pastor and clinical officer. A whistle-blower is not a social pariah to be avoided and to be condemned.
By-Alexander Opicho writes from Lodwar, Kenya [email protected]