When Anthony Nganga Mwaura was sworn in last week to chair the board of directors of Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), it marked a departure from tradition where holders of the office have tended to be career civil servants.
His immediate predecessor, Francis Muthaura, for instance, is a decorated civil servant with nearly 50 years in public service.
Mr Muthaura served as a district commissioner in the early 1970s and later as an ambassador in different missions.
For five years between 1996 and 2001, Mr Muthaura was the Secretary-General of the East African Community (EAC), before being appointed the Head of Public Service in the Mwai Kibaki administration.
Mr Muthaura’s predecessor, Dr Edward Sambili, too is an economist, a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Planning and National Development and a former deputy governor at the Central Bank of Kenya.
Mr Mwaura is a businessman whose past is controversial and doesn’t boast the public service credentials of his predecessors. What is undeniable, though, is that his rise to the KRA leadership has been as steep as it has been contentious.
Before 2020, the new KRA board chairperson was virtually unknown to many Kenyans. He would shoot to infamy when his companies, Hardi Enterprises and Toddy Civil Engineering Company, were implicated in a City Hall scandal for allegedly receiving irregular payments amounting to Sh102 million.
The money was allegedly wired to Hardi Enterprises, which distributed it to five of its Equity Bank accounts in various amounts.
The Assets Recovery Authority (ARA) would then seek to have these accounts frozen, together with nine high-end vehicles it argued had been bought using proceeds of corruption.
Justice Mumbi Ngugi granted ARA’s request, even as Mr Mwaura argued that he was a genuine businessman. He said he had accumulated his wealth by carrying out 15 construction projects with the government.
Last year, he began making public appearances as the chair of the elections board of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.
From near obscurity two short years ago, Mr Mwaura will now chair one of the most critical boards in the country for the next three years.
But who is this man? How did he penetrate the innermost sanctum of government?
In 2002, Mr Mwaura established Toddy Civil Engineering Company in Karatina town, Nyeri County. Karatina is also the hometown of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
At the time, the company had only two employees, and specialised in civil engineering, construction, lease of machinery and supply of construction materials.
By 2006, Toddy was doing business with the government through State departments and agencies such as Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) and Tana Water Works Development Agency (TWWDA). It has also worked with the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) among other entities.
Says Toddy on its website: ‘‘The company has a good number of qualified personnel in various fields…By attracting and retaining the best construction professionals in our industry, we can maintain the highest standards and ethics.’’
There is no mention of who the directors are.
But to understand how he rose to his current position, Mr Mwaura’s relationship with President William Ruto is a key factor. Considered a Ruto loyalist, he is one of only a handful of people who have the ear of the president.
When Dr Ruto, then Deputy President, entrusted him with running the nominations of the UDA party, this was perhaps Mr Mwaura’s opportunity to prove his credentials. It also appears President Ruto was preparing him for a bigger stage, in the event he won the presidential election.
Mr Mwaura would oversee a chaotic process, with nominations suspended in some parts of the country owing to fracas and claims of ballot stuffing. He would later defend his stance on the nomination process, emphasising that fairness had been observed.
‘‘We have not favoured anybody. Even if the cock crowed three times, I would not cry. We have done everything possible to make our members proud,’’ he said after the party primaries.
His boss Dr Ruto would agree with and even defend him.
“Mwaura and his team were very understanding. They worked under very minimum supervision and they did their job the best way that anybody could have,” said Dr Ruto.
Many now see his new role at the KRA as one in a series of appointments by the Kenya Kwanza government, aimed at rewarding with plum state jobs individuals who played a key role in its ascension to power.
According to the Constitution, the President is responsible for appointing the chairperson of the KRA board of directors, while the Treasury Cabinet Secretary appoints the rest of the members.
Mr Mwaura will lead a team of seven directors, namely, Charles Omanga, Leonard Ithau, Sally Mahihu and Susan Mudhune. Other directors are Mukesh Shah, Richard Opembe, and Maryann Njau.
Mr Mwaura takes the powerful office at a time the government is facing a severe cash crunch that has seen the Treasury’s overdraft at the Central Bank of Kenya hit Sh67 billion this month.
Whether he will fill the huge shoes of previous holders of the role at the Times Tower remains to be seen.