Chief of staff: Why public and private offices opt for the post


Chief of Staff to the President Delivery Unit Nzioka Waita [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

What comes to mind when you hear about chief of staff?

Think of Nzioka Waita, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s chief of staff, or the late Ken Osinde, Deputy President William Ruto’s chief of staff who was buried last week.

You might even know the chief of staff in your county government – that man or woman whose name is whispered in the corridors, who wields immense power and whose office isn’t usually far off from the governor’s.

Nairobi Governor Ann Kananu has nominated Paul Mutungi for the position.

Reputed business publications such as Forbes and Harvard Business Review are advising companies on the need for this role.

Mr Laban Cliff, Standard Group’s chief of staff, explains his role.

“My job is to assist our CEO run his office. Ideally, my job involves, from a very strategic overview, initiatives, communications and advisory work particularly in media and engaging various stakeholders in the private sector and government,” he said.

Initially a preserve of the military and some governments, more corporate organisations are opting for a chief of staff to make the work of the CEO’s office easier.

In the corporate world, the holder provides a buffer between a chief executive and the direct-reporting team.

They work behind the scenes to solve problems, mediate disputes and deal with issues before they are brought to the chief executive.

In 2011, the then Chief Justice Willy Mutunga created the position in the Judiciary and appointed Duncan Okello to the office.

It is an idea that David Maraga and Martha Koome embraced.

Okello was in charge of coordinating relations with government departments, the private sector and non-governmental organisations.

The Judiciary chief of staff also acts as the ombudsman. He receives feedback and complaints from the public and helps resolve them.

In an interview with Spice FM recently, Rose Wachuka, who joined the Judiciary from the Office of the Sports Cabinet Secretary, described herself as the facilitator in chief.

She likened her role to a DJ who mixes tracks into flowing music for entertainment.

Her role, she said, is to help realise the vision of the Chief Justice, and to make the Judiciary more accessible to the public and accountable in its operations.

“The senior legal counsel discuss with the office of the ombudsman, and then we keep a dashboard of all the things that we’re doing, and I track that dashboard to see what has come in, who is handling it, when we expect a resolution and whether those deadlines have been met,” she said.

Like her predecessors, Wachuka manages the support staff and their welfare. “There are so many competing interests in so many competing priorities. So the bearer of the office of the chief of staff has to be a very organised person and it’s not an easy thing. You also need to learn how to delegate,” she said.

The chief of staff, she said, heads the CJ’s office.

The position holder also sits in the Judiciary management team headed by the Chief Registrar.

CJ Koome, besides being the head of the Judiciary, is the chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission, the National Council for Legal Education and the National Council on Administration of Justice.

“And so these five statutory mandates have to be coordinated by someone,” she said.

A chief of staff has been a constant presence in the US since 1979. They oversee the White House staff, manage the president’s itinerary and are essentially the president’s gatekeeper.

In Kenya, President Kenyatta appointed Joseph Kinyua as his first chief of staff in 2013.

Kinyua was in charge of coordinating Cabinet affairs and programmes. The long-serving civil servant also served as Head of Civil Service.

When he was appointed, Opposition legislators were keen to know where the position fell.

Was it in the civil service, a state office or under the category of personal staff of the President under Article 234 (4) of the Constitution?

During Osinde’s burial, Ruto said he delegated a number of duties to him as he went across the country selling the government’s agenda and laying the ground for his presidential race.

“He was diligent, a broad thinker and master of human resource,” he said.

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