After what appears to be an irregular appointment, a professor who knows nothing about engineering and allied professions is the new principal of the University of Nairobi’s engineering college.
Peter Ngau, a trained P1 teacher who went on to acquire advanced degrees in geography, was appointed acting principal of the College of Architecture and Engineering two months ago by the vice chancellor Peter Mbithi.
He replaced Bernard Njoroge who was promoted to deputy vice chancellor in charge of administration and finance.
While it is procedural to appoint someone to act in a vacant position until it is filled through competitive recruitment, Prof Ngau’s appointment has raised eyebrows at the university, partly because of his background and how he rose to contend for a top position in a college where every profession is regulated by law.
The CAE trains engineers, planners, architects and nuclear scientists. But Prof Ngau is not trained in any of these professions.
A perusal of his CV, academic certificates and transcripts shows that he is a geographer who is masquerading as a planner. He trained at Kilimambogo Teachers Training College as a P1 teacher, before joining the University of Nairobi where he pursued a Bachelor of Education Arts and graduated in 1977. He specialised in Geography and actually taught the subject in secondary school. He then completed an MA in Geography in 1981.
In 1989, he graduated with a PhD in Geography from the University of California at Los Angeles. Upon his return to Kenya, he taught at the Department of Geography at the University of Nairobi. Using tribal connections involving senior administrators at the university, he was administratively transferred to the department of Urban and Regional Planning in CAE, which at that time wanted a registered planner to join the faculty.
His letter of transfer was curiously signed by George King’oria, who signed in his capacity as acting deputy principal of CAE.
Strangely, there has never been a deputy principal of CAE. In fact, the University of Nairobi has only one deputy principal who comes from the College of Humanities and Social Science, the largest college in the university.
With no qualifications in planning, but imagining himself as a planner, Ngau started claiming that he had studied planning. For example, although his MA degree states clearly that he studied Geography, his CV dated January 12 1995, claimed that he held an MA in Urban Geography.
This material misrepresentation was a prelude to claiming that he was an urban planner.
Equally, noteworthy is his misrepresentation of the PhD he attained at UCLA. Although the degree simply reads Doctor of Philosophy, he started presenting it as a degree in Urban and Regional Planning.
In the same CV, he went out of his way to present himself as an expert in Urban and Rural Development and Planning, Urban Policy and Community Development.
He did not mention Geography anywhere as one of his primary area of expertise and his disciplinary home.
After joining CAE, Ngau set his sights on being registered as a planner. This presented major challenges since he did not hold a qualification in planning. He lobbied hard to have the Physical Planners Registration Act (1996) amended to allow PhD holders to be registered on the basis of a PhD but his efforts failed.
However, he was still irregularly registered as a planner without the law being amendment to consider the PhD. How he got registered is the greatest mystery in the planning profession and is often widely discussed with quiet tones in the professions.
After his registration as a planner, the journey to the top eased up. In 2002, Prof Ngau was appointed chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning through the influence of a senior administrator at the university, a fellow tribesman.
Given that being dean is a requirement for promotion to principal, he has now taken to falsely claiming that he has acted as dean in the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Development for over a year but there is nothing in his record to show this. Neither can any of his colleagues remember ever seeing him acting as dean for a period of more than 15 days.
There are also questions regarding a private entity that Prof Ngau registered which is being used to conduct university business.
While still chair of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, the University of Nairobi entered into collaboration with Canada’s University of British Columbia. The partnership was in the form of a research project known as Urban Innovations Project. The project grant came from the Rockefeller Foundation and extended for three years up to 2011. This was done through the University Grants Office. However, when the project was coming up for renewal, Prof Ngau, in a clever move, offered to step down as chair because the project was ostensibly too involving and needed his fulltime attention.
At that time, he registered a private entity known as the Centre for Urban Research and Innovations. It is registered as a private company. Records also show that Prof Ngau registered a domain name for the website in his name on March 11 2011.
Since then, Prof Ngau resorted to using the centre to conduct university business. For instance, in 2014, the university signed an MOU with the UN-Habitat in which Curi was indicated as the implementing authority.
In one of the projects that UN-Habitat sponsored called country study on land and natural resources tenure security in East and Southern Africa, the UN agency committed funding to the tune of USD 60,000, with the University of Nairobi providing counterpart funds worth USD 5000. These funds ended up at Curi.
Contrary to the terms listed in the MOU, the UN-Habitat has not been notified that Curi is a privately owned entity and therefore, in effect, a sub-contractor. All subcontracts at the university are supposed to be governed by the procurement Act.
The whole arrangement between Curi and UoN constitutes a breach of the assignment clause of the MOU and exposes the UoN to huge penalties under the indemnification clause of the MOU.
Prof Ngau’s appointment as acting principal appears to be in total disregard of Chapter 6 of the constitution as well as the public officer ethics Act and the Kenya Penal Code.
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