How Peter Renartz, without work permit, sacked Zuku HR head, leading to Kshs 4.5 million compensation award by court

Peter Renartz was seconded to Kenya as deputy CEO of Telkom Kenya from Orange’s affiliate in Belgium where he’d been serving as the Country Manager of Orange Business Services in charge of Brussels & Luxembourg. For almost 3 years – from January 2008 till July 2010 – Renartz would serve as the Telkom Kenya’s deputy CEO before moving on and leaving the position to Jane Karuku.

After serving at Telkom Kenya, Renartz would leave the Orange Group and join Wananchi Group as CEO of the firm’s new triple-pay service Zuku. His professional profile indicates that he joined Wananchi in August 2010, just a month after quitting Telkom Kenya.

(TOP: Peter Renartz, the former Telkom Kenya and Wananchi Group deputy CEO who also sits on the Azuri Technologies board). 

However Renartz – at the time of joining Zuku – did not posses a valid permit to work in Kenya according to details of a court case filed against the firm by a former staff – Charles Muthama – in late November 2010 and heard and determined in mid March 2014.

According to court documents, Reinartz – a Belgian – applied for an Entry Permit as MD on  August 13, 2010 at the Immigration Department. The Permit Committee deliberated on the application and approved it early February 2011. Specifically, the approval was made on February 2, 2011 while the Notification of approval was issued on December 7, 2011 while payment for the Permit was received on February 25, 2011 and the actual Permit issued, thereby allowing Reinartz to work in Kenya.

Prior to the issue of the permit – that is between August 2010 to February 2011 – Renartz was not authorised to work in Kenya. But that’s what he was doing as we will see, contrary to the legal provision.

Here’s the background:

On November 25, 2010, Charles Muthama, Wananchi Group former head of HR, filed a case in court against his former employer for wrongful dismissal. In the suit, Muthama claimed that he’s wrongfully terminated  on August 23, 2010.

In the period leading to the termination, stated Muthama in the suit, he was subjected to cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, and was constantly insulted, intimidated, abused and humiliated by Richard Bell, who had been appointed a director and Projects Manager at Wananchi Group in April 2010.

According to the suit, the entry of Bell was soon followed by several developments and changes at Wananchi Group, among which was the replacement of the previous CEO Euan Fannell by Peter Renartz.

Due to frosty working relations with Bell, Muthama was August 23, 2010, issued with a letter titled ‘Employment’ which terminated his contract of employment with the termination effective immediately. Muthama was then directed to hand over to Suhayl Esmailjee, the COO and vacate the firm’s premises.

Upon handing over, Muthama received a call from Reinartz asking him to proceed to his Office once again. There, he found Reinartz with another letter dated August 23 2010 – titled ‘Resignation.’

“The Claimant (Muthama) did not author the letter but was required by the MD (Renartz) to sign it. Muthama was told if he signed, he would receive more than was offered under the termination letter. The two letters were issued within a span of forty five minutes. In the first letter, he was told he would be paid three months’ salary in lieu of notice. In the second, he was to be paid in addition, outstanding leave days and salary for August 2010. The Claimant signed the letter of ‘resignation’ because he believed it did not have any impact on the manner of his exit,” states the case documents, adding:

“Muthama first met Reinartz on 8th August 2010. The Claimant reported to Reinartz on 18th August 2010. The MD told him all he needed was a simple report on the staff. There was an agreement this report be given on 23rd August 2010. He instead was slammed with the two letters on 23rd August 2010 when he went to present the Report to the MD. Muthama believed the letter dated 23rd August 2010 titled ‘Employment,’ was authored by Bell. He never saw Reinartz sign the letter. Reinartz did not have a work permit at the time. He was working in Kenya illegally.”

Remember that this was happening just a few days after Renartz’s application for a work permit had just been submitted to the Immigration Department on August 13 by the same Muthama and was yet to be approved and issued.

In the ruling, delivered on March 14, 2014, Judge James Rika termed Muthama’s termination as being ‘fundamentally flawed’ stating thus: “The procedure in terminating the Claimant’s contract was fundamentally flawed. The attempts by the Respondent to shift the responsibility of terminating the contract to the Claimant through the deceitful letter or resignation, was the most glaring incidence of the lack of a fair procedure. The defect was compounded by the role played by Peter Reinartz. He joined the Respondent and took the functions of the CEO without a work permit. He had no authority to run any business of the Respondent, little less preside over the process through which the Claimant was required to justify his work output, and through which his contract was terminated. The letter of termination dated 23rd August 2010 was signed by an Officer who did not have the basic capacity to work for anyone, anywhere in Kenya.”

“This debilitating incapacity of Mr. Reinartz was confirmed by the Chief Immigration Officer Mr. Alfred Omangi, who produced documents showing the history of the Reinartz’s pursuit of a work permit. The permit was only available to Reinartz on 25th February 2011. The letter of termination issued and was signed by Reinartz before this date. Procedure was obviously flouted by use of an Officer engaged in a criminal enterprise, in issuing a letter of termination.”

Even though he had initially sort to be awarded Kshs 6.7 million compensation by the courts while filing the suit, the judge granted Muthama – who started his professional career as a Police Officer and rose to the rank of Police Inspector before moving to the corporate world – 8 months’ gross salary totalling Kshs. 4.48 million.

Renartz did not stay long at Wananchi Group, as he held the position for less than 2 years before moving to Eaton Towers in a similar capacity. He left Eaton to set up Balozi Services, an IT and broadcasting services consultancy.