Rebecca Miano seeks to boost economic growth, lower cost of business

Trade and Investment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano, during an interview on December  22, 2023, at Her home in Runda, Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Investments, Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Miano says her experience in the public service for the last 25 years has prepared her adequately for the enormous task ahead.

The soft-spoken Cabinet Secretary, who holds a Master’s Degree in Comparative Law and is an advocate by profession, speaks about her plans to make the country attractive for investment, trade and industrialisation.

What do we stand to gain from the Kenya–European Union Economic Partnership Agreement?

The signing of the agreement has enabled Kenyan exporters to secure permanent duty-free access to the 27-country, €14 trillion European Union market.

The event that concluded several years of negotiations to permanently secure Kenya’s largest export market was witnessed by President William Ruto and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. This agreement opens up additional avenues for exporters of Kenyan flowers, vegetables, avocados, coffee and other products to secure long-term buyer partnerships in the European Union as well as stronger incentives to invest more in production and value addition.

Further, the agreement signals Kenya’s readiness to diversify her export mix into Europe, with value-added manufactured products such as industrial shoes, articles of leather and fully packaged and branded bouquets of flowers increasingly finding their way onto supermarket shelves across Europe.

This economic partnership covers cooperation on several issues including trade in goods, fisheries, agriculture, economic and development cooperation among other trade topics. It also contains ambitious commitments towards environmental protection and sustainable trade, topics that President Ruto has championed in the context of climate change and Kenya’s transition to a green economy.

You are two months old in the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry. What are your achievements so far?

I got an opportunity to represent our country during the G7 Trade Ministers meeting in Japan as one of my first major assignments in the ministry. Kenya and Japan agreed to initiate joint cooperation to improve market access through strengthening supply capacity for product development and export development.

Globally, Africa features favourably as the next frontier for investments and Kenya stands strategically for Japan as a reliable partner to manufacture for the African continent and the world in general.

During my trip to Japan, we also discussed the possibility of twinning our 47 counties with the country’s 47 prefectures to promote a one-county one-value chain in Kenya compared to Japan where they practice one-prefecture one-product which has led to the country becoming a global economic powerhouse.

I also represented the president during the African trade fair held in Egypt. I was at the COP 28 in the United Arab Emirates where the president was among heads of state in attendance. I recently accompanied the President to India where he held bilateral talks that aim to improve the trade partnerships between the two countries which share a common history with a huge population of Indian nationals doing business in the country.

What measures has the government taken to address business challenges faced by investors?

The Cabinet has taken decisive action to address significant business climate challenges impacting investors by appointing a team that I am leading tasked to develop comprehensive business reforms action plan. This initiative aims to drive legal and regulatory reforms that will substantially reduce the cost of doing business.

I believe that my leadership will be instrumental in fostering a more conducive environment for investment and economic growth in the country. Membership of the team will comprise ministries and departments that have a business angle in the mandate.

Your ministry launched the Counties Aggregation and Industrial Parks. What are the objectives?

The Counties Aggregations and Industrial Parks are game changers in our counties development, with the project having been launched in 18 counties so far. The projects are expected to cost Sh500 million in each county, with the national government contributing Sh250 million while the respective county will contribute an additional Sh250 million.

The projects will ensure that citizens have a place to take and market their products with cold rooms to store them to ensure they remain fresh.

You served in the Ministry of East African Affairs and Arid &Semi-Arid Lands. What was your experience?

I started off my career in the Ministry of East African Affairs and Arid & Semi-Arid Lands when I was appointed by President William Ruto to serve in his Cabinet. During my tenure in the ministry, we were able to attend four summits for the heads of state where there was stakeholders engagement for the intended formation of the East African political confederation. We also lobbied for the East African Monetary Union.

I also joined the ministry when the country was facing one of the harshest drought situations in the country, with government coming up with measures to ensure that citizens and livestock in drought-stricken areas are cushioned from harm.

What plans do you have for the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry in 2024?

The Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry has got the responsibility of propelling the country to produce more products and services for local consumption and for export. The ministry has a role to create more jobs and putting up measures to attract more foreign investments in the country. Kenya has the largest port in Mombasa which we intend to maximise its use for the economic prosperity of the country. 

You served as the Escort in Honour for British Queen Camilla. How was the experience?

When King Charles and Queen Camilla toured Kenya last month, I was appointed as the Escort in Honour for Queen Camilla and I learnt that she is very humble and down to earth. I got the opportunity of riding in the Royal Airforce plane with the King and Queen to Mombasa.

I have also served as the Escort in Honour for US First Lady Jill Biden and the Vice President of Colombia when they toured the country after being appointed by the government to perform that duty.  I can tell you that the leaders that I have interacted with are dedicated to serve humanity and I have learnt a lot from them. I have inculcated the good qualities that I have acquired from various leaders that I look up to to make me a better leader.

How can you describe President William Ruto?

President William Ruto is well conversant with all the ministries, which I like since he keeps us on toes. He does not like public servants who do not have a good grip over their dockets. The president is easily accessible on phone, is approachable, a good listener, ready to give advice and gives you a chance to explain your point. If you have done your homework well, you can easily convince him to see things your way. The president is a time keeper. If he tells you we meet at 8am, it is exactly that. Many leaders are not known to keep time. The president is hardworking, dedicated, resilient and has the best interests of Kenyans in all that he is doing.

Did you expect to be appointed to the Cabinet?

It was a pleasant surprise to be appointed to the Cabinet by President William Ruto. I did not expect this honour since I was busy working to ensure that the country had enough electricity as KenGen CEO. I will work hard to ensure that I do not let down the President and Kenyans who have a lot of expectations.

What are the challenges in your ministry?

There are many State agencies in the ministry which need to be aligned to the Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda. We are working towards ensuring that they deliver their mandate and support the president’s agenda to transform the country’s economy for the better.

Can you take us through your career journey?

While growing up, my dream career was to be a television anchor as I admired some of the female presenters that I watched read news at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation which was the sole broadcaster then. I joined the University of Nairobi where I studied for Bachelors of Law degree and later joined the Kenya School of Law for a postgraduate diploma in legal studies. After completion of my studies, I practiced law in Kenya and Australia where I obtained a Masters degree in Comparative Law.

I joined the Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) as an assistant legal officer in 1998 growing through the ranks until 2017 when I was appointed the chief executive officer of the State corporation, a position I held until last year when I was appointed a Cabinet Secretary by the President.

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