Matiang’i should streamline policymaking

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i.
A month has passed since the mad rush to get all primary school leavers into secondary schools. First off, it is fair to say the whole affair was a disaster. It is almost as if the Ministry of Education was doing secondary school placements for the first time, and with little thought about the details. The ministry had to reverse itself after giving conflicting or unworkable directives to head teachers. Second, even after the glaring failures, no one was held accountable. Not the Principal Secretary, the Chief Administrative Secretary, or the Cabinet Secretary. In a well-governed state, the placement fiasco coupled with the botched launch of the new curriculum would have resulted in heads rolling.

Not in Kenya. Despite having an increasingly more complex economy, we remain stuck in a world of policymaking through pronouncements and launches of projects without a shred of accountability. Our top policymakers have yet to show any evidence of being concerned about the details.

It is not just the Ministry of Education. The Transport Cabinet Secretary this week showed he knows very little about how public transportation works in Nairobi. Again, he too, had to reverse himself after public uproar. The Ministry of Agriculture botched the implicit maize and fertiliser subsidies to farmers, and only began to clean up shop after the President publicly castigated the CS multiple times in public.

These acts do not inspire public confidence in the government. One would only hope that there will be improvements with the ongoing reorganisation of the Cabinet into a “development committee” chaired by CS Fred Matiang’i. At the heat of any changes should be an insistence on a culture of structured policymaking that is informed by research and an understanding of the details at the highest levels.

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The habit of having senior government officials be little more than speech readers should be a thing of the past. Anyone can do that. These men and women should be made to understand the details of the policies they foist on Kenyans, and how they stand to affect them. What would it mean to have a car free day in Nairobi? What kind of public transportation system would be able to support a work day without the matatus sector? Similarly, why was the Ministry of Education allowed to push along with the curriculum reform schedule without sweating the details and realising that it was going to be a failure?

The number one challenge for CS Matiang’i is to streamline policymaking and implementation process across different ministries and departments in government. And as a follow up, he should convince the President to institute a system of swift accountability among political appointees. Men and women who so obvious inflict pain on Kenyans on account of their inability to do their jobs properly should be fired. People respond to incentives, and when gross failing attract no consequences, the entire administration will have a culture of failing upwards (as is arguably already the case).

The number two challenge should be to scrap the notion of administration through summits and public events. This culture partly fuels poor planning and graft in government – with officials commissioning projects multiple times, deviating from the specifics of Parliament’s appropriation, and creating opportunities for graft. Once approved, specific projects and the timelines of their implementation should be made public. There should be no room for personal favors from public officials. There is room for public officials to attend public events, for sure. But for each event they should spend countless hours sweating the details. We want to see less of them, and more of the fruits of their labour.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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Ministry of EducationCS Fred Matiang’iPolicy Making