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Cabinet nominees were petted not vetted; process a waste of money

President William Ruto (right) congratulates the new CS for Trade and Industry Moses Kuria after he was sworn in at State House on October 27, 2022. [PCS, Standard]

For a long time many years ago, Kenya was a nation at war with itself as certain politicians resisted calls for changing the Constitution. That is not to say that Kenya is not at war with itself now. It still is because of mindless politicians who see enemies in every corner. 

Those many years ago, certain politicians did not want the Constitution changed, but changes came anyway, and one of the things it brought was the vetting of Cabinet Secretaries by a committee of the National Assembly before formal appointment.

During the period when there was a clamour for reforms, one of the Cabinet Secretaries who was vetted last week was in government, probably in the Cabinet and thus, naturally against any changes.

There was an animal called collective responsibility, so, any Cabinet Minister -- the current day Cabinet Secretary -- was bound by a string of impunity to appreciate or even praise sins any of them committed against those who wanted reforms. They had to speak in one voice which was not even theirs, thus, if the master's voice condemned a certain minister, they had to echo it.

It was a real zoo out there since the Constitution itself was meant to make the Head of State comfortable, so amendments were the order of the day to weed out any articles, subsections or clauses that were likely to cause discomfiture.

Since Cabinet Ministers were members of the National Assembly, they rode on the animal called collective responsibility and voted for any amendment the government wanted, even if it was going to kill commerce in areas they represented. Dark days those ones were. Old people with old mindsets were running the show.

Those days were gone, until they came back last week during the vetting of new Cabinet Secretaries. Last week, the 2010 Constitution, which has been hailed as the panacea for all governance ills, was being employed so that Kenyans can get the best leaders through a transparent process.

Before the 2010 Constitution, Cabinet Ministers would be named and sworn in without the public knowing about their past or how they would make things better.

It was a simple yet draconian process as the appointing authority would pick anyone with a questionable past. Vetting of Cabinet nominees is just one of the interventions in the 2010 Constitution that is meant to shield Kenyans from incompetent State officers or those who do not meet certain legal and societal standards. 

The process aims at giving us leaders who have integrity; people who understand what accountability is, considering that they have to explain some of their past actions, sources of wealth and how their strategies will benefit Kenyans.

This process was not meant to be just 'ticking the box' because the Constitution stipulates that Cabinet nominees have to be vetted. It was meant to be a thorough bipartisan exercise in which the committee members think of Kenyans, the people who elected them, and the people whose interests they are meant to safeguard.

They are required to judge the suitability or otherwise of every nominee during or after the vetting process and not before as it happened with this new set of Cabinet Secretaries. We would be lying if we were to say that the vetting process was not farcical. It was a bonding session between political friends, a petting exercise where nominees were mollycoddled and questions answered for them.

The members were just going through the motions and the nominees were so confident they would be approved that some of them went to inspect the offices they were being vetted for before they faced the committee. Even the committee chair's statement that they should not do so was just a casual remark, and not a warning because there would be no consequences. That is why even after the chair's statement, one of the nominees asked if he could report to work immediately his ninety minutes of being petted were over.

Considering that the committee members were reportedly earning sitting allowances, the process was an expensive and meaningless formality that ought to have been skipped now that even their unanimous decision not to recommend one of the nominees did not matter.

Their sentiments were dismissed using skewed arguments and theories which prove the National Assembly, and indeed Kenya, is now filled with young people who have old mindsets like those of 1980s politicians who could not think on their own. 

It seems we are going back to the days when members of the National Assembly were forced to speak in one voice, the master's voice, even if the result will hurt the people they represent. Ideally, there was no vetting. That was petting and the process should be done away with as it is a waste of time and resources that can be put to better use.