|Dr Richard Leakey who headed the dream team, welcomes President Moi at Jomo Kenyatta Iinternational Airport.
By NJONJO KIHURIA
Hemmed in by donors who were demanding accountability and an opposition insistent on removing it from power, the Kanu government in mid 1999, appointed high level technocrats to “turn round the economy”.
Fished from the private sector, international finance and development organisations, it was the task of the economic recovery team, popularly referred to as the ‘dream team’ to revive a flagging economy and create donor confidence in a country that was rapidly heading towards ‘banana republic’ status.
It was made up of renowned conservationist and former Kenya Wildlife Service Director Richard Leakey as Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of Civil Service, Martin Oduor-Otieno a former director of finance and planning at Barclays Bank as the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance and Planning and Mwangazi Mwachofi the resident representative of the South Africa based International Finance Corporation as the Financial Secretary.
Others were the then Managing Director of Magadi Soda (and currently MD Kenya Airways) Titus Naikuni as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Dr Shem Migot Adholla a lead specialist for rural development in Africa at the World Bank as the Permanent Secretaryin the Ministry of Agriculture and Wilfred Mwangi from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre as the Energy Permanent Secretary.
Officially, the task of the team was economic recovery, but it was also expected to placate donors and get foreign aid flowing again.
The team took earnestly to its agenda of ushering accountability and reforming the civil service. It was also mandated with the restructuring of other deteriorating sectors including finance and agriculture and the revival of the crumbling infrastructure.
Importantly, it was one of the team’s mandates to shape up the sluggish, bottom-heavy civil service and curb corruption in the process reforming the Judiciary, police and other institutions involved in the fight against graft.
All seemed fine at the beginning as the members hit the ground running. The team redifined policy by introducing the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), which was hailed by economists as a substantial success because it linked poverty reduction to budgetary considerations such as revenue, expenditure and financing budgetary deficit.
But maybe its most visible achievement was winning back donor confidence, especially that of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
But to the senior civil servants who felt that the team was overpaid and condenscending, the Leakey team was dismissed as the blue-eyed boys of the two Breton Woods institutions, whose loyalty was not to the Kenya government. “They (donors) were funding the payment of some of these accounting officers, so the interests of these foreign countries prevailed which was very painful to some of us”, the then Permanent Secretary in the Directorate of Personnel Management (DPM), Joseph Kaguthi told The Standard this week.
Their hefty salaries (unofficial records tabled in Parliament indicated that Leakey and Mwachofi earned Sh2.4 million each, Adholla Sh2 million, Oduor Otieno and Naikuni Sh1.5 million and Mwangi Sh1.2 million) some of which was underwritten by the two institutions, were criticised as unrealistic.
The retrenchment of some 250,000 civil servants in 2000 was supposed to usher efficiency in public service and cut expenditure but while the concept was right, critics felt that the programme was implemented hastily and almost incompetently.
The government did not have the capacity to retrench such a big number of its employees and to many it appeared as if it was throwing people who had served it for years, into the streets at the behest of the donor community. According to Kaguthi, retrenched workers got a paltry Sh40,000, while the DPM had suggested the figure of Sh240,000
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The training of retrenched workers to prepare them for ‘street’ life was at most half-baked and this brought out the team as an insensitive outfit.
Kaguthi recalls how in July 2000 and in September of the same year, many senior civil servants including permanent secretaries were retrenched and when he advised the team against threatening civil servants, his caution was not taken kindly. And when he questioned the way the team was handling the civil service retrenchment, the Leakey team decided the former PC had to be removed from service. “We (at the DPM) had meticulously planned the retrenchment programme, but our plans were not followed. This unfortunately was the first time Kenya allowed itself to be interfered with and almost harassed by lateral and multi lateral donors.”
Kaguthi was later sacked as he attended the DPM end of year party.
Some observers however argued that although the programme was not carried out meticulously, it shed excessive baggage from the bloated civil service, which was no mean task.
But in the process and in trying to seal the corruption loophole, the team stepped on many powerful and/or politically connected toes and by early 2001, it became obvious that its expiry date was close at hand. Leakey was sidelined in the making of such major decisions as excision of forest land and re-introduction of visas for tourists. It was clear that in the unlikely event that they were to see their first term of office through, their contracts would not be renewed.
Finally, Leakey and two other senior members of his team (Otieno and Naikuni), were shown the door towards the end of March 2001. Even as the team’s detractors called for the rationalisation of the salaries of the remaining members to the level of other civil servants, it was just a matter of time before they too left or were sacked.