Why the 51 principal secretaries hold the key to Kenya's success

President William Ruto. [Samson Wire, Standard]

I have always been a car enthusiast since my childhood. My father Bishop Kalua had a short stint as a pioneering owner of a matatu plying the Nairobi West route.

Back in the late seventies, he owned a Volkswagen Kombi van that ferried people from Nairobi CBD to Nairobi West. This Kombi gave me an opportunity to acquaint myself with the mechanical workings of a car.

Recently as I was driving home, I reflected on the many parts of a car that must efficiently work for it to function. Chief among them are the engine and gearbox.

While an internal-combustion engine converts energy from the heat of burning fuel into the force that turns wheels, a gear box transmits that force.

In essence, a gear box enables the car to move. It provides varying amounts of energy as per the need of the moment. It does the heavy lifting.

In the Executive arm of government, Cabinet Secretaries are like engines of the ministries while Principal Secretaries are like gear boxes. While Cabinet Secretaries are the centres of ministerial power, Principal Secretaries transmit that power into meticulous technical action that delivers results. 

Last Friday, 51 Principal Secretaries (PSs) were sworn into office. They included 12 honourable women. These individuals are now tasked with a constitutional responsibility spelt out in Section 155 of our Constitution ‘Each State department shall be under the administration of a Principal Secretary.’

As State departmental leaders, Principal Secretaries turn the wheels of a ministry forward. They hold Authority to Incur Expenditure (AIE). That’s a hard nut to crack because managing money is one of the hardest tasks in any institution.

As the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission chairman once famously said in 2016, Kenya loses a third of its budget to corruption. Given their critical roles as AIE holders, PSs can provide the first line of defence for state funds.

If they do so, the state will increasingly get full value for public resources and this will change Kenyans’ lives. There is need therefore for the new PSs to support and become permanent friends to the Office of the Auditor General and other constitutionally established agencies including Parliament because there they will consistently access valuable reports that will guide them away from grave mistakes made by their predecessors.

It was remarkable to hear President William Ruto reminding the PSs about the prominence of Kenya’s human capital as he reassured them of his unwavering support.

Clearly, their work optimises service delivery. It follows that optimal service delivery from state officers makes the lives of people better.

For instance, Eng Joseph Mungai Mbugua, the new PS, State Department for Roads can ensure unprecedented construction and maintenance of roads in Kenya taking a cue from President Kenyatta’s administration to transform the lives of Kenyans through ease of movement of people and goods.

Eng John Kipchumba Tanui, the new PS for ICT and Digital Economy on the other hand, has a tremendous opportunity of using his vast experience to fast-track digitisation of government services to ensure better collaboration between institutions and convenient access to services.

On his part, the PS for Sports and Arts Jonathan Mwangangi Mueke can transform lives through tapping talents even as he gets Kenya to the next World Cup.

The most experienced Prof Richard Belio Kipsang through his education docket, can streamline our children’s education and grant then hope for future. The same applies to all other PSs because everything stands and falls on their shoulders.

The 51 Principal Secretaries are not just technocratic state officers. They fix the nuts and bolts of government. Just like the gear box, they should transmit the force that powers the government engine for Kenya to keep moving towards success. Think green act green!