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Cabinet appointees must work to fulfil Kenyans' expectations

By The Standard | Published Mon, January 29th 2018 at 00:00, Updated January 28th 2018 at 23:23 GMT +3
President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing the nation on Cabinet re-organization at State House, Nairobi [Photo: Courtesy]

For all intents and purposes, the new Cabinet announced on Friday is President Uhuru Kenyatta’s last throw of the dice. His legacy will largely depend on how the men and women he has picked execute their roles.  By any measure, a Cabinet defines and frames the agenda of a president. And that is of great significance for a president in his last term.

With his main challenger in the annulled August 8 election, Raila Odinga, vowing to go ahead with his planned swearing-in tomorrow, the symbolism of a super Cabinet could not have been more appropriate.

The issue is not so much about who was picked for what post, but rather the mix-and-match, omissions, and soft landings afforded those who many Kenyans perceive to have performed dismally in the last Cabinet.

Perhaps cognizant of the fact that a Cabinet is a hit-and-miss affair, the President’s announcement was devoid of the fanfare we saw in his first term. Notably missing from his list was a nominee for the post of Cabinet secretary for Housing, a key pillar of his administration’s ‘big four’ agenda, although the President made it clear that the construction of his Cabinet was still going on. The other pillars are food security, universal health, and manufacturing.

It is true that policy wonks at Treasury determine the direction the Cabinet secretary takes. However, with an economy that is out of kilter, predicted to grow at below 5 per cent, one would have expected a shake-up in the Ministry of Finance to try to improve the country’s economic outlook.

Many expected that the Cabinet would mirror Kenyans’ impatience with the inefficiency, wastage, and corruption in the public sector that is hobbling our progress.

In the past three years, many companies have downsized or resorted to other painful cost-cutting measures to stay afloat in an increasingly difficult business environment. This is in spite of the rosy outlook painted by government mandarins.

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In his first term, President Kenyatta had a lot going for him. There was harmony in his Cabinet. This was a sharp contrast from his predecessor, President Mwai Kibaki’s first Cabinet which was characterised by bouts of internecine wars between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK), the then coalition partners.

And yet despite incessant wrangling, Mr Kibaki delivered change, growing the economy by 9 percentage points from -2 per cent in 2002.

Second, there was no bickering or public contestation of government policy in Mr Kenyatta’s Cabinet. The President was in control. Some would say that this was because there were no politicians in the Cabinet, or rather that the politicians were outnumbered.

In his second term, there is a high risk that succession politics will weigh in and try to derail his agenda.

Third, Jubilee inherited a fairly sound economy in 2013. Yet in spite of, or because of that, the sense of accomplishment that was pervasive in Mr Kibaki’s first term is lacking. A super Cabinet would have signalled to a weary public that it would no longer be business as usual.

Critics have questioned the rationale of creating the post of chief administrative secretary (CAS) in each ministry, a new layer of bureaucrats at a time when Treasury has raised the red flag about the unsustainable recurrent expenditure at the expense of development.

Apart from the concerns about whether the posts are anchored in law, there is also the question of the role the CASs will perform.

There are concerns that this enhanced bureaucracy will slow down decision-making and, consequently, undermine the rationale the President gave for creating the positions; promoting effective service delivery.

There is also a risk that besides the cost to the taxpayer, these roles will create new centres of power.

Some observers have concluded that what Mr Kenyatta has accomplished is to sneak in the defunct posts of assistant ministers. This is supported by the fact that most of the nominees to the positions are politicians.

However, the Cabinet is not short of positive news. The nomination of veteran journalist Farida Karoney and career diplomat Monica Juma, two astute women who have climbed to the top of the ladder in their respective careers, is commendable.

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