The Star (Nairobi)

Leakey rubbishes report on KWS insolvency

Kenya Wildlife Service chairman Richard Leakey reacts during the release of the results of the National Elephant Ivory and Rhino Horn Stockpiles Inventory at KWS Headquarters, September 16, 2015. /PATRICK VIDIJA
Kenya Wildlife Service chairman Richard Leakey reacts during the release of the results of the National Elephant Ivory and Rhino Horn Stockpiles Inventory at KWS Headquarters, September 16, 2015. /PATRICK VIDIJA

Richard Leakey has rubbished claims that Kenya Wildlife Service is insolvent and that park operations have either dipped or stalled.

The Star asked questions based on visits to several parks, the Auditor General’s report and interviews with field officers and senior managers at the headquarters.

These pointed to a crisis and fears of the organisation’s collapse but Leakey urged the search for “good news, not sensational, social media, fake news”.

Auditor General Edward Ouko termed the service technically insolvent due to an accumulated loss of Sh4.4 billion. It was said KWS’ survival was hinged on creditors, the governments and donors.

A spot check by The Star and interviews at several parks found 70 per cent vehicles grounded, the air-wing near collapse and resignations by senior and low cadre staff who complained of poor working conditions.

“We have been forced to leave the work we love because our welfare and that of animals is wanting. Services at the orphanage and Safari Walk are wanting and both guests and animals are suffering,” said a source at Nairobi National Park.

“We have seen the deaths of many lions and cheetahs as a result of negligence. This year alone, more than 10 staff at the orphanage and Safari Walk have left to join Dubai Safari Walk.”

A senior warden at a different park said: “The situation is worse in parks, with all fleets of cars not motorable. We have opted to use motorcycles, at our own costs, to respond to incidences. The ripple effect is a spike in poaching and bogged down morale.”

A manager familiar with service operations said: “We are facing a financial crunch and currently depend on well-wisher. Many of our best talent are going back to the ministry or searching for other opportunities. The earlier we accept the problem, the better.”

When he took over the service in 2015, Leakey promised to return the service to financial stability and make it self-sustaining.

He also pledged to boost staff morale but he has been accused of changing the reporting structure, such that each department reports directly to him, not the director general.

Woes at the service have been linked to this leadership style.

But Leakey said: “We are not insolvent. The talk of insolvency is a book figure based on depreciation of roads in the audit report. It’s very misleading, as far as I can tell.

“Four aircraft are flying. The engine for the Cessna caravan has been overhauled at a considerable cost and the craft should be back in service early next year.”

The chairman added that they will acquire 50 vehicles in January and that steps had been taken for the number to increase.

Leakey said staff morale is high but did not comment on feedback on his leadership style.

“You need to do a proper research and not be dependent on the social media and fake news. Find out facts on improved benefits plus more,” he said.

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