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Competency is better than academics for Cabinet and County Executive jobs

By Paul Olale | Published Thu, February 8th 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 7th 2018 at 23:45 GMT +3
Nominated ICT CS Joe Mucheru being vetted at National Assembly in 2015. [Photo by Willis Awandu/Standard]

There are always long drawn debates whether people proposed for positions of Cabinet Secretaries and County Executives(CEC) , were qualified for the assigned dockets or not.

The majority of people tend to focus on the academic qualifications and work experience of the nominees, against the titles of the Ministries or Departments they are given.

But from the past experience with performances of various individuals, I believe competency should be considered above the academic qualifications and professional or work experience, during vetting.

Competency is having the requisite skills and knowledge to perform a job or a task.

Why competence

While this can be acquired in school, there also many people who get it through exposure to public affairs, socialization, self-learning, mentorship or business experience.

The CSs do not perform the technical or professional work in the ministries or department, but only provide leadership in implementation of government policies and deployment of resources.

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There was general agreement that Charity Ngilu performed well as a Minister for Health during the first President Kibaki government, despite her modest qualifications then. The same to the late John Michuki, who brought sanity to the matatu industry, yet he was not an expert in transport issues, but a career administrator and businessman.

The skills Mrs Ngilu and Mr Michuki shared were being firm, focused and relentless follow-up of matters. The former used to appear at hospitals incognito, as she posed as a patient, same to the latter who boarded matatus in guise of a passenger.

That way they caught the culprits red-handed, instead of waiting for reports on their desks. Since they had also served as MP’s, the duo had the knowledge of legislation, public expectations and aspirations.

When Mr Michuki and Mrs Ngilu were later moved to Environment and Water ministries respectively, during the second Kibaki era,  they equally made their presence felt. Therefore their performance are good cases for competency.

Fred Matiang’i performed exemplary at the Ministry of Education, not more because of his degree, but for being firm, determination to follow-up matters, and his past knowledge in the field, as a former lecturer.

Doctors have been appointed to head the health dockets at the national and county levels, but there is no show that they did better than their predecessors from different backgrounds. Academic papers or job experience are therefore no guarantee for success in leadership, and the exceptions cannot make the rule.

In 2013, the CECs at the counties were vetted and appointed to the departments that matched their academic papers and work experiences, but barely a year later, most of them were kicked out by governors over incompetence, then replaced by those from other fields. Being firm to cartels and wheeler-dealers, and making random impromptu follow-ups , also means one is a dedicated leader.

The knowledge acquired through experience in social circles, business interactions, politics, self-teaching and business management, qualifies one as educated, as opposed to learned, which is got from classroom. It is also public knowledge that there are many people with impressive academic and professional CV’s who can barely come up with a cohesive thought or an idea to solve a problem.

“A degree is simply a piece of paper certifying you met a certain level of scholastic achievement. But what happens in the classroom doesn’t always translate into the real world,” writes Ryan Guina, an American writer and entrepreneur.

With the current trend of forged or bought degrees, it was only prudent to consider other criteria in vetting, for the benefit of doubt.

Experience matters

Therefore in vetting people for the executive state jobs, the main criteria should be competency, within which underlay education and leadership qualities. One can be intelligent, but much more than that is required for public office, as science fiction writer Arthur Clarke wrote, “It is yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.”

In addition these jobs need a person who is motivated, passionate and accessible to the general public, which can be verified from one’s past experience and written memoranda from the public, sent to the vetting committees.

Even in the careers world, most employers now consider sense of purpose, critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills, more than one’s field of study, which can as well apply to state or public jobs.

A careers coach, Ashley Stahl, adds that for success in public or career jobs one also needs extensive networks, which supports some people’s notion that is an advantage to get an executive who knows many people who matter.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

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