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Denied retirement: Why Joseph Kinyua is ‘engine of the Presidency’

 Joseph Kinyua.

Joseph Kinyua, the Head of Public Service, has tried retiring but President Uhuru Kenyatta cannot let the 67-year-old go.

Even other presidents before Uhuru seem to have faced similar problems of clinging on to the same old and tested technocrats who understood “the mechanics of government.”

The odd thing about this post is that few jostle, canvass, position, fight, back stab or front bite to have it.

Kinyua, one of Kenya’s oldest civil servants, was appointed when Uhuru ascended to power in 2013 to a low reception despite few doubting the career economist’s stellar performance as PS at The National Treasury.

His close rapport with Uhuru started when Uhuru was Finance Minister in the Kibaki administration.

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Our sources at State House also stressed the fact that Kinyua is “a workaholic and incorruptible, and has remained frugal- not one to waste State resources. Even as his colleagues immersed themselves in flamboyance, he surrenders his government vehicles on Fridays and uses his private cars on weekends, including Pick-Ups, even though his home in Nyeri is nearer Nairobi.”

When at the Treasury, Kinyua reported to work at 4am when even Uhuru as Finance Minister trooped in at 8am or much later. He remains an early riser even at State House and “Uhuru is repaying for his hard work. Even at State House,” added the source in the know.

Kinyua’s job description includes “coordination of Cabinet affairs and programmes” for which those in the know argued meant he should have been vetted by the Public Service Commission and Parliament as stipulated in Article 10 of the Constitution.

Activist Okiya Omtatah challenged Kinyua’s issuance of circulars to parastatals. But Kinyua clarified in court papers that he was only transmitting the President’s decisions and not usurping the power of the Public Service Commission.

Kinyua who also cited the President’s powers to create offices within the public service was first appointed Chief of Staff with his broom sweeping across State House staffers and all civil servants and even Principal Secretaries, effectively making him the “engine of the Presidency.”

 Joseph Kinyua speaks to President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Human Resources expert John Osoro told The Nairobian that the Head of the Public Service is not only answerable to the President but also runs the Cabinet Office which communicates executive decisions besides supervising and coordinating ministries and departments.

His role as Chief of Staff was later given to Nzioka Waita who also doubles as head of the Presidential Delivery Unit.

But State House sources intimated to The Nairobian that “he has the President’s trust” and even Cabinet Secretaries still have to pass through him before making any presentations to the President. They said Kunyua’s “many years of experience also counts a lot”.

Here we’re talking three decades in government positions that included overseeing major policy decisions, besides stints with the Central Bank of Kenya, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and several ministries, including PS at Treasury.

In State House circles, Kinyua is regarded as the “elder in the room” and with a fairly young team at the presidency, his firm, but decisive calmness makes him a key influencer in shaping statecraft besides being a key driver of Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda upon which his legacy is hinged.

READ ALSO: Apartment where young Uhuru dated Margaret

“One thing that has worked for Kinyua is the fact he is not a dyed-in-wool administrator. Even when he rejects or seeks a relook at proposals made by CSs and PSs, he does not dress them down,” added another source at State House. “He is not the (Simeon) Nyachae, (Fred) Matiangí type.”

Kinyua’s likely heirs include his Deputy, Wanyama Musiambo, Waita and Njee Muturi, Deputy Chief of Staff, Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs.

Muturi is a former Solicitor General who was Uhuru’s aide before he became Kanu flag bearer in the 2002 presidential elections. Though Musiambo would be an automatic replacement, pundits argue that trust and political considerations hold more water than career progression.

And it is not just Uhuru who has problems letting his Head of Public Service go: Kibaki had Ambassador Francis Muthaura and Francis Kimemia, now Laikipa Governor. Retired president Moi had Simeon Nyachae then the Chief Secretary, a precursor to the Head of Public Service. His powers were akin to those of a Prime Minister. Moi was forced to scrap the position!

Uhuru’s Old Guy, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta- in his 15 years rule- had the powerful Duncan Ndegwa, Jeremiah Kiereini and the late Geoffrey Kareithi holding fort.

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