William Ruto's Executive signals shift to presidency that is more engaged

President William Ruto during the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) Day Celebrations in Laikipia Air Base. [PCS]

By the time you are reading this, we shall be moving from the fifth to sixth week in office for President William Ruto's Kenya Kwanza administration.

To repeat for the umpteenth time, this is still the honeymoon period (Monday October 17th is Day 35 if we count inauguration as Day One), but this takes nothing away from the heavy burden of expectations among Kenyans.

As suggested previously, we are probably looking at Day 55 (November 7th) for when government - Cabinet and Principal Secretaries plus other senior appointments - is up and running. That's my guess. In the meantime, 24 individuals have been the subject of approval hearings by the National Assembly's Committee on Appointments this week. That is, one Prime Cabinet Secretary, one Secretary to the Cabinet, one Attorney General and 21 Cabinet secretaries (or are they now called Cabinet ministers as was the case in the past?).

The schedule released suggests each nominee will be vetted for anything from 45 minutes to just less than an hour. The committee itself has up to 20 members all included, which works out to about one minute for questions per member if you allow equal time for nominee responses. As said earlier, this process is already happening.

While this vetting process offers great box-office space for our political theatrics, is it a useful exercise? Couldn't we better surface people's policy ideas and issues, in addition to the more personal vetting of their profiles? Would it offer a great opportunity to test each nominee's conviction and commitment towards the "bottom-up" model; both in general terms but also specific to the portfolios to each of the 24 individuals were nominated? For example, what does "bottom-up" as a philosophy look like for energy, the environment, tourism, sports or heritage?

Treat these as thoughts towards a vetting process that delves into each nominee's understanding of ministerial portfolios as they exist today, how they might look tomorrow, and the strategic direction that takes Kenya from today to tomorrow. Obviously, these are thoughts for the future. Here is another one. Even accepting that nominations, especially this time round, were dominated by politicians (to be the policy leaders that Cabinet should correctly represent), at what point does the committee consider "big picture" issues such as regional balance versus capacity and merit?

Again, thoughts worth reflecting upon as we followed the week's vetting, which are about "whom". We must also place this constitutionally-mandated process in perspective. How many places do you know where State and public officers are subjected to interview hearings broadcast live to all Kenyans? And it's not just Africa we are talking about here. To say that Kenya's constitution took us a step ahead is without doubt; what we need is a culture of "continuous improvement".

Less noticed is how Dr Ruto might be shaping his administration to deliver "The Plan". Yes, the "whom" matters, but so does the "what". Government, including the traditional public and Civil Service, is a terribly difficult institution to reform or transform, because, by its very definition, it is supposed to reflect stability and continuity, not volatility and change.

In bureaucratic practice (rather than theory), we like to say that "personnel is policy" and "the structure is the strategy". The trouble with this framing is that it tends towards a feeling of stagnation and an experience of non-responsiveness that then leads back to calls for "reform as a verb (action), not a noun (object)".

It is probably in this light that we might do well to pay closer attention not simply to the "whom" in the President's recent appointments, but to the "what" reflected in Executive Order Number 1 on the Organisation of Government. The short story tells us that the Kenya Kwanza administration will run with 22 ministries (including the State Law Office) and 49 (or is it 48?) departments. Within the order, however, are important nuances to this design. Let's look at a couple of these.

The first one signals a clear shift towards a more hands-on and engaged US-style presidency. The overarching Executive Office of the President (EOP) now comprises three Offices of the President, Deputy President and Prime Cabinet Secretary. The Office of the President contains new advisory (and unvetted) offices for National Security, Women's Rights and the Climate Change Council.

Then more advisory offices focused on the economy and fiscus: Council of Economic Advisors, Economic Transformation Secretariat and Office of Fiscal Affairs and Budget Policy. One expects that the National Social and Economic Council will align with this new arrangement.

Given the economy is at the centre of Kenya Kwanza's agenda, the immediate thought that emerges is that economic, fiscal and budget policy (advice) is now firmly located in the Presidency, while the National Treasury will more narrowly focus on transactional treasury/cash matters (revenue with KRA, spending and payment, debt management, cash flow and links with monetary policy) plus medium-term economic and strategic planning guided by policy advice from above.

It will be fascinating to see where Kenya Vision 2030, which has a board and secretariat located in the State Department of Economic Planning under National Treasury, fits into this fine-tuning. Last but not least, are we looking towards a US-style President's Budget (as the budget for their equivalent of our national executive is known) as a step up from our current Treasury estimates?

What else is interesting in the rest of EOP? Well, the Office of the Deputy President will take up inter-governmental matters (IBEC and IGRTC) with a principal administrative secretary specifically responsible for devolution and inter-governmental affairs, including liaison with constitutional commissions and independent offices, as well as the coordination of international development partnerships and oversight over public service reforms.

In this rendering where no specific devolution ministry exists, the Office will basically be responsible for much of the horizontal, cross-government work at national level previously located in other central ministries.

The new Office of the Prime Cabinet Secretary will assist the two higher offices in the coordination of government ministries and State departments. Within this are specific tasks around parliamentary liaison and legislative affairs on one hand, and performance management and service delivery - which have specific units - on the other.

The State corporations framework will also fall under this office, which will also be expected to work closely with the Ministry of Interior and its regional and county-level national administrations in overseeing the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of national policies, programmes and projects across the country.

What should we make of this EOP picture? On the face of it, there is an almost ironic "top-down" sense to its design to deliver a "bottom-up" agenda, even though the case for driving economic policy through the presidency cannot be gainsaid, especially given the transformation imperative.

The design also doesn't quite settle all questions around the division of labour. First between the offices of the Deputy President and Prime Cabinet Secretary. Second, between and among these offices and traditional national-level central (horizontal) ministries such as Interior, Public Service and, of course, Treasury and Planning in the case of the Office of the President.

Third, in achieving efficiency in coordination, implementation, supervision and oversight between this overall EOP structure and traditional national-level line (vertical) ministries (eg education, health, water, roads, trade) where policies, programmes and projects are actually designed, funded and implemented.

It will be interesting to see how it all fits together. Across the national executive. Between the national executive and other arms of government (including Chapter 15 commissions and offices). Between and across the two levels of national and county government, especially with a national government administration that also exists at county level. That's probably the integrated "theory of government" that still feels like it's missing, but let's patiently follow what happens.

The second nuance is far more basic. The executive order allows us to reflect on how line ministries are set out in a performance context. We might even have had great raw material to guide questions during the cabinet nominee vetting. Which metrics will Education use to measure Basic, TVET and Higher Education (and Research)? How must you monitor Medical Services and Public Health under Health? Or Crop versus Livestock Development under Agriculture? Or Labour/Skills Development and Social Security/Protection under Labour and Social Protection?

Or Foreign versus Diaspora in Foreign Affairs? Roads as separate from Transport and Public Works in one ministry? Public service versus Gender and Affirmative Action in another? Broadcasting/Telecomms and ICT/Digital in yet another ministry? Or Trade as separate from Investment Promotion and Industry; Cooperatives as separate from MSMEs or Land and Physical Planning separately from Housing and Urban Development?

Ditto Youth Affairs versus Sports and the Arts; Tourism and Wildlife versus Culture and Heritage; Water and Sanitation versus Irrigation; Environment versus Forestry, or Energy versus Petroleum; EAC Affairs versus ASALs and Regional Development, and Mining as separate from the Blue Economy and Shipping/Maritime Affairs. Aren't these the key result areas for our leaders?

The writer is a management and institutional reform consultant