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State House Comptroller has the job well cut out but it is not a walk in the park

By Biketi Kikechi | April 20th 2021

Franklin Bett.

State House Comptroller is a coveted job in the country because the holder of the office is close to the ‘seat of power.’

It is also the apex for ambitious civil servants who earn the position through career progression and those who rise to the position because of political connections.

Former State House Comptroller Franklin Bett, a career civil servant, who also served as Permanent Secretary (renamed Principal Secretary) and ambassador, describes the position as reaching the highest point of Marslows hierarchy of needs.

“When you get to that position, there is the feeling of having achieved your full potential because the person you are serving and the tasks involved are the ultimate challenges for any civil servant in the country,” said Mr Bett.

So who is the State House Comptroller?

Terms of service for the holder of the office are like those of a Principal Secretary because the person is in-charge of Finance and Administration but carries added responsibilities of being the president’s private secretary.

So they ensure that all functions from transport, security, communication, catering and general administration are not only well funded but also properly performed.

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What makes or breaks the success of the officer holder are the challenges that come from handling the president’s diary and other duties related to the functions of private secretary.

“One’s success is determined by the whims of the president and that is why in your role as the Comptroller, you must be in constant touch with him, always seeking directions otherwise it may be misconstrued that you are also wielding power,” says Bett.

So it is the president who determines your ability to perform duties well because he gives the orders, especially those that are political and to some extent administrative.

There is also a lot of gossip and backstabbing that make the job difficult, because of political interests and perception of how one is handling those who seek the president’s attention.

This comes from powerful politicians visiting State House or those making telephone calls asking to speak to him and others seeking favours or sending delegations to meet him.

“We had purveyors of lies and fabricators of stories: Wewe mzee huyu Bett anatukataza kuona wewe. Anatufungia mlango na sisi tunakuletea kura (Mzee Bett is blocking us from seeing you and bringing you votes),” recounts Bett.

From his experience, to survive in that position one must also be thick skinned and only focus on the boss while ignoring self-styled handlers, gossipers and the so-called foot soldiers.

Powerful politicians, regional kingpins and tribal chieftains should also be handled with a lot of care because they can easily misinform the president and sour relations at State House if one fails to treat them with caution.

“Make sure the president is informed when one arrives, even when you don’t let them in. Tell him that there is a politician at the gate or on phone and he will either tell you to give an appointment, dismiss or allow them in,” says Bett.

But even when that happens sometimes the president forgets that they asked the Comptroller to give appointment dates to politicians and questions like nani alipatia yeye appointment (who gave him an appointment may arise.

He says family interference can also determine how you execute your duties although that was rare during Moi’s time. Bett recounts that family members at the time were supportive and could always ask how they could assist the Comptroller perform his duties better.

That was in contrast to President Kibaki’s time when late First Lady Lucy Kibaki ruffled feathers and engaged in public spats with State House Comptrollers and other protocol officers.

State House Comptrollers also work with the president’s doctor to ensure that health checks are done as scheduled and take charge of the catering department to ensure that required diet is always available.

They also ensure that his laundry is done. 

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