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From CBK to Treasury: This man Ndung'u

Business
 National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung'u. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

All eyes will be on President William Ruto's top money man, Prof Njuguna Ndung'u on Thursday as he reads one of the most awaited national budgets for the financial year 2023-24.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary will on Thursday afternoon make the brief but ceremonious traditional trip from the hallowed walls of the Treasury Building to Parliament for the country's most awaited big day.

But not before posing for the now famous photo of a Treasury boss clutching the historic budget briefcase that has become synonymous with Kenya's budget-making cycles since independence.

President William Ruto appointed the former Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Governor as the new Treasury cabinet Secretary last September.

Prof Ndung'u, a professor of economics who worked as CBK boss between 2007 and 2015, walks a tightrope this morning as Kenyans bank on his policy measures to alleviate their suffering.

He has had a long illustrious career in public and academic sectors marked by hits and misses.

Prof Ndung'u, who became CBK boss in 2007, weathered a political storm in 2012 when Parliament tried to oust him over currency turmoil in 2011. The shilling had weakened sharply and inflation soared.

He, however, restored his reputation as a central banker in the following years, keeping inflation contained after raising interest rates before gradually stabilising them.

 Central Bank of Kenya. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

He stepped down in March 2015 after serving two four-year terms. As CBK governor, Prof Ndung'u participated in initiatives aimed at increasing banks' credit to individuals and businesses to fund economic activity and spur growth and has been hailed as a poster boy for financial inclusion.

Under his stewardship, banks grew, raising their profits and assets every year. He also backed innovation in the financial sector, including mobile phone-based M-Pesa which is credited with widening access to financial services. He also licensed the first Islamic bank, paving the way for the growth of the nascent sector.

Prof Ndung'u's tenure was not without blot, however, as his reign was also tainted by controversy.

A Reuters poll, for instance, ranked him as the worst-performing African policymaker after the shilling plunged to its weakest-ever level then, while run-away inflation was in full swing.

His regulatory style also came into focus following the collapse of Chase Bank, the third Kenyan bank to collapse in under nine months.

At the time, questions resurfaced on whether he may have allowed rogue bankers room for mischief by being too soft on regulation in the guise of avoiding stifling the sector.

 The National Treasury. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

But he has dismissed such criticism and publicly spoken against what he terms "overregulation" which he has argued can "stifle" the banking sector.

His successor Dr Patrick Njoroge also publicly vouched to focus his mandate on the enforcement of compliance guidelines by the country's lenders putting Ndung'u on the spot.

Separately, a parliamentary committee in 2012 asked Ndung'u to step aside from his CBK post, proposing a probe into how he handled the Shilling's plunge to a historic low a year before. The local unit had at the time hit a record low of Sh107 per dollar on October 11, but later strengthened more than 20 per cent after CBK raised its key lending rate.

Prof Ndung'u, who holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, was a director of training at the think-tank, African Economic Research Consortium. His research and teaching work spanned macroeconomics, microeconomics, econometrics and poverty reduction.

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