Joseph Kinyua: Kenya’s most powerful civil servant

The new Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua at a past function. Kinyua’s new role has attracted debate over President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision to hand a lot of power to one man.  [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]


KENYA: The new Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service, Joseph Kinyua, has the most powerful job in the country.

Mr Kinyua now becomes the boss of all staff at State House, as well as heading all civil servants in the country, including principal secretaries. This effectively puts him in charge of running the government on behalf of the President.

Opinions are divided so far about whether or not the President made a prudent decision in picking Kinyua as both the Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service.

Lawyers have raised queries about all that power being domiciled in the hands of one man, more so when the individual was not elected.

Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society of Kenya, Apollo Mboya, noted that while the President had a right and sole prerogative to pick a person to work in his office as the Chief of Staff, coupling the role with that of Civil Service complicates matters.

Mboya’s argument is that the Civil Service head must be vetted and approved by the Public Service Commission in a fair, transparent, competitive, merit-based process that takes into account the “diversities of Kenya’s communities” as prescribed in Article 232 and 234 of the Constitution.

“The authority granted to the President to establish offices on his personal staff does not extend to offices in the Public Service. He can only create offices in the Public Service with the recommendation of the Public Service Commission,” said Mboya, saying the Constitution gives the Commission the exclusive authority to establish offices.

“If the President is creating offices in the Public Service, what excludes him from all the national values in Article 10 of the Constitution and those under Article 232?” posed Mboya.

The other question will be, if Kinyua’s job description, which according to State House, includes ‘coordination of Cabinet affairs and Cabinet programmes’ is that high up, why was he not vetted by Parliament, yet the current Secretary to the Cabinet, Francis Kimemia was vetted for the position?

PSC recommendation

There’s no indication so far that Kinyua’s appointment was upon a request or recommendation of the Public Service Commission.

However, a knowledgeable source in government familiar with the workings of the Commission and presidency said the President reserved the prerogative to pick whoever he wanted to be the Chief of Staff.

According to the practice, the President also decides who will coordinate government on his behalf, and what the designation of such a person will be.

The long-serving senior bureaucrat, who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity because he doesn’t want to clash with his new boss, said the position of Head of Public Service means that all Principal Secretaries, and perhaps Cabinet Secretaries, might be forced to swing their decisions by him before they reach the President.

“The Constitution is clear that the Cabinet Secretaries report to the President,” the mandarin said, “but before you get to the President, you have to deal with the person who coordinates Cabinet affairs and programmes.”

If looked at in the context of the Presidency, as it is done in the US, from where Kenya borrowed much of the structure of the Executive, the Chief of Staff is by far the engine of the Presidency.