By Pauline Kairu, Mohamed Ahmed
“I will not resign and those calling for my resignation can go to hell!”
This was Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala’s response to calls for him to step down over the death of 11 rhinos following their relocation to a newly established sanctuary in Tsavo East Park.
This comes in the wake of the blame game between the ministry and the just dissolved Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Board, chaired by Dr Richard Leakey.
Mr Balala has been under pressure to quit since the revelation of the death of the rhinos translocated from the Nairobi and Nakuru national parks in June and July.
The relocation of the animals was carried out by KWS and facilitated by the World Wide Fund Kenya.
Mr Balala was addressing journalists on Monday, an hour after the National Assembly’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee summoned him to explain how the rhinos died at the park.
DECIDE HIS FATE
He said only President Uhuru Kenyatta can decide his fate as “he is the only one who has appointed me and he knows I have the capacity to run the Wildlife docket. Nobody is going to intimidate me.”
Dr Leakey blamed the Mr Balala for approving the translocation of the rhinos, which the board he chaired had declined for three years.
However, a release of confidential minutes supposedly from the Leakey-led board — dispatched by Balala’s office in quick succession — indicated that the board had indeed endorsed the move.
This contradicts the press testament released earlier by Dr Leakey, in which he said: “During the life of the board, the issue of the Tsavo rhino translocation came up three times over the three-year period and on each occasion, the board noted that there was deep concern about the lack of vegetation… and availability of safe water in the sanctuary that could sustain the rhinos.”
According to Mr Leakey, the board had directed that no translocation should occur unless the two crucial necessities were addressed.
He decried the absence of a successive board, saying this had left a gap in which weighty matters of direction and discipline had been left to the ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.
The board chaired by Leakey was dissolved on April 17, 2018.
This came on the same day that the Union of Veterinary Practitioners said Balala should take responsibility for the rhino deaths.
The union said the CS should not use veterinarians, who fulfilled their mandates following his sanctioning of the relocation, as scapegoats.
The union over the weekend released a statement in which they opposed the firing of six officers involved in the relocation.
Dr Miheso Mulembani, the secretary-general of the union, said the executive arm of the organ wanted the CS to rescind his decision with immediate effect, failure to which the body would take serious measures including immediate withdrawal of all veterinary services in the country.
DEMOTED DIRECTOR GENERAL
Mr Balala on Thursday last week sent parking six managers employed by KWS and demoted the director-general, Mr Julius Kimani. He said they had casually carried out their duties, leading to the rhino deaths.
Investigations by an independent enquiry, according to Mr Balala, had shown there were areas of clear negligence that occurred post-translocation at the release site in Tsavo, especially in the holding boma (enclosure) at the sanctuary.
The animals died from multiple stress syndrome after repeatedly drinking salty water.
“It is hypocritical for the CS to have launched the translocations and blame technical officers,” said Dr Mulembani.
He said the fired veterinarians had safely immobilised, loaded, transported, woken and taken care of the animals at the bomas for a whole week until their release into the wild, incident-free.
“Their mandate was a success. They had no control over other areas like the environmental assessment as it does not fall under their jurisdiction. There are other officers employed to do that,” Mr Mulembani said.
Speaking when he paid a courtesy call to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, Mr Balala said: “In my leadership I decided that I am going to be right and not nice. On the issue of rhinos, I am going to stand with what is right. None of those calling for my resignation has appointed me; it is President Uhuru Kenyatta who appointed me, so they can go to hell.”
He added: “They want to take over the parks and start using the emotions of international donors to raise funds for their lifestyle… but I am going to stop it once and for all.”