Geoffrey Njang’ombe: Calm giant who has never pocketed a bribe

By Robert Nyagah 

Mr Geoffrey Njang’ombe, former Commissioner of Cooperatives, has a unique demeanour; polite, cool and collected. Yet behind the tranquility of mien is a tough uncompromising personality, but not in the usual sense of intense outlook commanded by senior corporate gentlemen and ladies.

His amiability goes beyond common etiquette, transcending even the wiles of temptation in the course of dispensing duty, having never in his professional life yielded to pressure and persuasion to take favours in exchange for service.

Precisely put – no bribes.

For the 38 years he has worked in the industry, he has firmly held himself accountable, guided by his Christian principles that he holds in high esteem.

The retired public servant says he has always been a staunch member of the Anglican Church where his integrity roots were nurtured.

He says he entered the sensitive audit profession dressed in ethics and integrity, and throughout his career he detested any suggestion that would bring his reputation down.

This is despite the constant exposure to money transactions where financial reports are evaluated for professional correctness.

Integrity, accountability and transparency are the key professional pillars he has leaned on, never once wavering from the straight path he fashioned for himself.

He wonders why auditors make their reports a mere ritual and shroud it in great secrecy.

“I have never been compromised and helped many organizations to have their embezzled money refunded by unscrupulous workers. Under my watch, huge funds have been returned to various Saccos and Co-operatives,” says the former Commissioner.

Stakeholders in the Cooperative industry who interacted with him while at the helm and listened to him offer his professional guidance in the management of financial resources perhaps knew that one noble side of his story.

He was born and brought up in Embu before venturing into the civil society. Now full of invaluable experience, he has rich suggestions about how Cooperatives should be managed and what should never be allowed in the industry.

Judging the movement as one of the most vibrant sectors of Kenya’s economy, he says the more than Ksh1 trillion worth of assets and more than Ksh800 million in savings invested can never be underrated.

The audit department, he insists, is one of the most critical areas in the management of Cooperatives and should never be dreaded as it used to occur in the past.

“In fact it should be embraced because advice on management of resources and professional preparation of financial reports can be done from this department,” he says.

The Bachelor of Commerce graduate and a Certified  Public Accountant (CPA) launched his career as a District Cooperatives Auditor, where he remained throughout his career except when he worked at the Auditor General’s office for five years.

He later rose to the rank of Commissioner of Cooperatives, a position he held until retirement.

Though believed to be relatively wealthy, he is rather too taciturn to discuss his private life, preferring instead to dwell more on his professional inclinations.

There is rife talk that he controls huge amounts of shares in the local transport Saccos, among them NENO Sacco, but he wouldn’t be drawn into that discussion.

“Work as an auditor is very demanding and leaves one with little time to get involved in serious investments and business,” he points out, adding: “Perhaps now that I am retired, I may venture into something, although not that demanding to deny me time to serve the community, the Church and my family.”

He has already fully immersed himself in community and church affairs, guiding self-help groups and Saccos to improve the management of their resources.

The former Cooperatives boss says that although he will be available to offer his professional services, he has no intention of repackaging himself as a consultant.

Among issues he is keen on are the sector reforms, having been one of the experts who formulated policy papers and fast-tracked them to be brought before Parliament for proper legislation.

“The laws under which Cooperatives were devolved need amendment to be aligned to the present system of devolved units. Counties have not given Cooperatives the required attention, and there being huge inadequacies in the law, there is need for amendment,” he explained.

The role of the central government, according to the former commissioner, is dealing with policies while devolved units should tackle the management facets. He argues that such changes would ensure that the sector is dealt with as a business enterprise and not social units, as the situation is today.

Saccos, he adds, should be sustainable through liberalization to comfortably make profits while always conforming to the rules and regulations governing them.

He is passionate about the coffee and dairy industries, where he says that despite the good returns, there is still a big room for expansion and improvement.

“Coffee is so dear to Embu people because it is its indigenous resource that has built the local economy with farmers’ savings being used to educate many children through Saccos,” says Mr. Njang’ombe.

On cartels in the coffee industry, he says it still remains a major drawback because they reap more benefits than farmers while the quality of coffee has been compromised as quantities diminished to levels of unprofitability.

Holding onto the hope that the industry could soon return to profitability, he is appealing to the youth to venture into it as it has already been digitized through various programmes by the government.

He notes that if farmers worked as Cooperatives to access inputs in larger quantities, access to such inputs would become cheaper and hence ensure coffee production was profitable. He posits that marketing should be direct and more transparent to removed cartels that rip off farmers.

He also suggests that systems should be put in place to halt the now rampant sub-division of land into small units, which is no longer sustainable.

The greatest potential to reap profits under Saccos and Cooperatives, Mr. Njang’ombe adds, is in the transport industry where he advises the youth to venture into vibrantly and professionally.

While noting that the NENO Sacco was one of the best managed and perhaps one of the best, the retired commissioner says accountable management of other transport Saccos and even boda bodas have great potential to be profitable.

He says that once laws and rules to manage Saccos in well-structured systems are formulated, the area of transport should become an attractive sector especially to the youth who have a lot of potential to manage many sectors of the country’s economy.

Women and youth groups, Mr. Njang’ombe suggests, should expand their investments to areas such horticulture and bee keeping. He noted that in bee keeping, the capital required was quite minimal yet honey remained one of the most sought after produce, especially in the export market.

On the Jua Kali sector, and especially young graduates from the various technical institutions, he said youth must unite and register Saccos because they will be able to bid and win government and corporate tenders.

“When you come together as welders, carpenters and masons, it is easy to access finance from banks and even get supply tenders,” said Mr. Njang’ombe, noting that the net had been cast so wide to cover even private caterers who can pool their resources to register and professionalize their services.

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