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Matiang’i should make new post work for the good of our country

By The Standard | January 24th 2019

President Uhuru Kenyatta made sweeping changes through Executive Order No. 1 of 2019 that put Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i at the centre of government operations, including the formulation, budgeting and execution of government policies and projects.

Depending on where one stands, the elevation of Interior CS Fred Matiang’i means different things to different people. To his political enemies, the DP has been cut down to size; to his allies, it is a confirmation of the much-rumoured drifting apart of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his stalwart deputy; to supporters of Dr Matiang’i, it is the recognition of his effectiveness and singleness of purpose in public administration.

What all of them seem to agree on is that the appointment has caused tremors in the political landscape, especially because of the rising political temperatures as the 2022 succession politics take centre stage.

Put aside the politics for a moment, President Kenyatta could have been alarmed that with time quickly running out before the end of his second term -slightly under three years- he needed someone who is driven and focused to deliver his legacy projects under the Big 4 agenda; Affordable Housing, Universal healthcare, Food Security and Manufacturing. Who better to do that than Dr Matiang’i?

It could also be that the president realizes mixing politics with development does not offer any tangible results. Speculation is that the president may have realized that with his principle assistant seemingly preoccupied with the race to succeed him, he needed a new broom to drive the transform agenda and bequeath his successor a better country. On that score, only time will tell.

Other than the Universal Health Care programme that he launched at the beginning of the year, the Housing agenda is beset by opposition and lawsuits and could be tied down in court for long; while little has been forthcoming (even in terms of policy formulation) about the food security pillar and so far, no tangible steps have been taken to get the manufacturing off the ground.

So perhaps Dr Matiang’i’s appointment offers the president a chance to recalibrate his programme and ensure timely delivery.

Surely, we cannot begrudge Dr Matiang’i his appointment. By any measure, he has delivered on previous assignments, including as Education CS where the most notable achievement was the cleaning up of a rotten examination administration. Many applaud him for single handedly restoring the prestige in our exams and grading. His handling of the current portfolio has elicited mixed feelings depending again on which side one stands. Many will remember the ruthless deployment of security officers to quell protests in the aftermath of President Kenyatta’s re-election. Several people were killed and others injured.

Some will say his actions minimized acts of violence and destruction and loss of life. Yet his appointment raises two fundamental issues about our governance structure.

The first one is the conundrum another layer of administration will create in the Civil Service behemoth. For example, what is the role of the Head of Public Service? The new reporting lines in essence creates a parallel system within a system.

For all intents and purposes, Dr Matiang’i’s new role reintroduces the much-maligned Provincial Administration through the back door. Mind you in 2010, Kenyans voted with their hearts and minds to do away with a structure that – under previous administrations- had submerged a culture of corruption, bad governance, violence, fear and intimidation in the society.

Most of those who voted to change the independence Constitution (seven out of every 10 Kenyans) will surely feel cheated were this colonial apparatus to be brought back.

Looked at face value, the appointment also highlights the folly of depending on personality to drive much needed change rather than establishing strong institutions that underpin democracy and governance and thereby ensures continuity.

Frustrated by the back-and-forth over the implementation of the new Competency-Based Curriculum, many parents even started asking that Dr Matiang’i returns to his old post because the current holder, Amina Mohammed, seems out of depth.

That aside; Dr Matiang’i owes it to the country to make the new role a force for good. In truth, Kenyans get a raw deal from their government. Many feel hard done by the slow-moving, expensive, corruption-laden public service.

They are disappointed that the blotted, pampered Civil Service gobbles up nearly three-quarters of the taxpayers’ funds at the expense of development and other social services. And if Dr Matiang’i will bang heads to ensure that taxpayers get value for their taxes and that through his actions, the perennial wastage and leakage of funds is stopped, so be it.

And by all means, the new role should not undermine devolution, arguably the jewel of the 2010 Constitution. We can only wish him well and hope that he is not sucked into the maelstrom of political chicanery that is so common place nowadays.

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