Ruto must reform State machinery to deliver pledges

President William Ruto speaks during the opening of the 13th Parliament on September 29t 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

In past articles I have argued that President William Ruto likely appointed the current Cabinet with the intention of centralising power in State House.

Most observers believe this is not one of our best sets of cabinet secretaries, which implies limited possibilities for effective delegation on the part of the President.

Lack of delegation means micromanagement from State House, or a descent into chaos in the individual ministries. What I failed to appreciate is that there is an alternative to micromanagement.

Knowing that he has weak CSs (and assuming he nonetheless wants to implement his agenda), the President could also embark on a re-engineering of the administrative-bureaucratic state.

A strong administrative state that can implement his directives would make up for wishy-washy cabinet secretaries. It is fair to say service delivery by our government is far from ideal.

And it is not just because of corruption. Much of the administrative-bureaucratic state is inefficient primarily because of organisational reasons.

The mandates, job descriptions, and accountability mechanisms for individual officials are not clear. Senior officials seldom delegate duties, meaning the government only works as much as they have time to approve everything.

This centralistion of power creates dis-incentives against positive deviance and innovation among individual officials. It also means that frontline bureaucrats are never in a position to problem solve and adapt depending on context. Why waste time learning to love what you do and trying to become more productive when you are never allowed to do anything without permission from the top?

Fixing the entire administrative-bureaucratic state would be a complex undertaking. For that reason, the president and his advisors may fail to see the usefulness of doing so. However, I hope State House would consider targeting critical ministries and departments (for example, agriculture, education, health, industrialisation and trade), in addition to creating an overall working environment that empowers individual officials to be innovative and adopt a problem-solving orientation.

The target ministries would have the principal secretaries and middle management in all departments get specialised training and incentives to deliver on clear priorities and targets set by State House.

They would also be empowered to solve specific problems, without waiting for orders from above. Notice that such reforms need not completely eradicate corruption, the lifeblood of our political economy. Yet they would ensure better service.

-The writer is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University