MPs demand Balala sack over the death of 11 black rhinos

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 00:00 |
Kenya Wildlife Service rangers immobilise a black rhino at the Nairobi National Park on June 26, last year ahead of translocation to the Tsavo East National Park. Photo/PD/BERNARD MALONZA

A parliamentary committee wants Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala to take full responsibility and resign over the deaths of 11 black rhinos following a botched translocation exercise last year.

Failing to do so, the parliamentary Committee on Environment and Natural Resources wants President Uhuru Kenyatta to fire Balala.

“The Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife should take overall responsibility for the botched translocation exercise since he delayed the appointment of a new Board of Trustees at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS),” the report says.

The committee, chaired by Mara MP Kareke Mbiuki, says the board would have offered policy direction and guidance to the KWS management.

“In the absence of the board, the ministry had overall responsibility over the KWS operations, including the translocation,” says the report tabled in the National Assembly last week.

The House committee alleges the motivation behind the exercise was Sh2.854 billion (25 million Euros), which the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was seeking from Germany to fund the translocation.

The MPs now claim that the exercise, which was neither necessary nor practical, was being pushed by WWF in order to receive the money.

Apply pressure

WWF partnered with the KWS on rhino conservation to fund the botched exercise, and applied pressure on the KWS to hasten the translocation, the report added. 

WWF, the report further said, was motivated by the funding they were seeking then in Germany of almost 25 million Euros and that “the translocation was to offer positive publicity to facilitate the securing of the funding,” the report states.

The report goes further to say WWF had no legal standing and leeway to pressure a public entity to act outside the laid down procedures and regulations.

Efforts to reach Balala to comment on the issue were futile, as his telephone did not go through.

The committee also accuses him of having used a preliminary report that was hastily done to suspend veterinary doctors concerned, accusing them of negligence when he lacked powers to take action against a KWS officer.

Mbiuki, who authored the report, said the committee had found out that the CS abdicated his responsibilities by not appointing the board in good time for no reason.

“As a committee we have censured him and if the National Assembly approves the report, then he either resigns or the President sacks him,” said the MP.

The committee also wants the then Principal Secretary in the Tourism ministry, who sat in the previous KWS board, Margret Mwakima, to be held responsible for failing to ensure proper oversight measures during the exercise.

MPs questioned why the ministry proceeded with the translocation yet the board of trustees, of which the former PS was a member, had declined to approve the exercise three times on grounds that  it was inadvisable to translocate free range rhinos to a restricted sanctuary that had water with high salinity levels and unfavourable habitat. 

The death of the rhinos caused uproar across the country with some calling for Balala’s resignation. 

Hitting back, Balala told those calling for his resignation in July last year: “I will stand for what is right... These are sideshows... Nobody appointed me.

It is only Uhuru Kenyatta who has appointed me... They can go to hell and I can tell them that... I don’t want to comment on the rhinos but they can go to hell.”

The committee regretted that KWS relied on outdated translocation guidelines and protocols for wildlife.

Withhold information

The report comes after Balala and the WWF, the financiers, launched the translocation on July 1, last year at a colourful ceremony.

During the exercise rhinos from parks in Nairobi and Nakuru were moved to a new sanctuary in Tsavo East National Park that KWS and WWF had spent six years constructing.

The committee also wants the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe former head of KWS Ecological and Monitoring, Mohammed Omar, for withholding crucial information that could have aided in decision-making.

Omar failed to provide water quality assessment tests results to inform the decisions of the translocation team, a move that saw salt poisoning cause the death of the rhinos.

Further, the MPs want the head of Veterinary Services and the head of Capture Services apprehended over the deaths.

Lawmakers also want KWS to discipline officers, who may have exhibited laxity during the translocation, and to conduct an urgent job evaluation for all officers so as to align their qualifications with their responsibilities. 

The rhinos were translocated despite warnings by the Tsavo area assistant director about the death of the first rhino and signs of another unhealthy one at the Tsavo East sanctuary.

After the deaths, Balala said an independent inquiry had found that negligence by conservation officers was to blame. 

The report found the wildlife had succumbed to stress and poisoning from drinking salty water, he added.

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