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Cabinet secretaries have a date with history

By By KIPKOECH TANUI | May 24th 2013


Starehe Boys Centre founder Geoffrey Griffin used to tell his students to execute any task given them to perfection.

“Even if it is washing a cup, wash it until the cup knows it has never been washed like that.’’ That was his way of preparing them for the challenges ahead of them, replete with cutthroat competition.

Though I am not an old boy of Starehe, I would add that if asked to sweep a floor, sweep it until it knows it has never been swept or scrubbed that much, I would oblige.

This teaching that could revolutionise the country came to my mind while watching the 16 Cabinet Secretaries take oath of office. Their impressive curriculum vitae aside and the curious coincidence in overseas university education as well as initial dalliance with fathers or mothers of two children, I just hope we did not, because of ‘tyranny of jubilee” numbers in the House, compromise on integrity and competence.

It is not my business to pour cold water on the shabby and casual manner in which the nominees were vetted. In fact at one point I felt our trainee reporters went through a more rigorous interview process than these chaps. The only part I liked was when they were being asked about what plans they have for their portfolios and attendant departments when confronted with the accusations from the members of the public.

It is nonetheless my submission that the storm raised by the committee when it decided the only unsuitable nominee, was Phyllis Jepkosgei Kipingor Kandie, now the Cabinet Secretary for East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, served another purpose.

In their majority ruling by the House vetting team, Kandie was unimpressive and like the other nominees whose rejection was reversed by the 10th Parliament, lacked passion or was incoherent.

I will reserve my judgment on Kandie, save to say that her CV spoke volumes about her academic prowess, and that her stutter when speaking isn’t any different from that of Prof Ngugi Wa Thiongo. It does not in anyway reduce her to an academic dwarf. Secondly, when facing an interview, few usually get all the answers and facts right, but this does not mean they are clueless.

But here is my take on what transpired with the clearing process once it ended up in Parliament; Kandie’s predicament and suitability took center-stage, generated political heat, and served as diversion from the other nominees.

This is where I think the tragedy of the nomination process lies.

So as we haggled over Kandie’s suitability, at least four other nominees scraped through the razor wire of public scrutiny unnoticed.

All they had were interim certificates for endorsement from the vetting team. The House, already split into parties and tribes by the Kandie storm, never bothered to give a second look at the other nominees.

Similarly, as a country we were consumed in the debate and deflected attention from the other 14.

Today that is history, and in the self-defeating parlance borrowed from Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission after the controversial March poll results, we should just ‘accept and move on’.

But there is a fundamental issue here. The 16 who are soon to joined by two or even six more Cabinet Secretaries — since the Constitution allows President Kenyatta and deputy President William Ruto maximum of 22 Cabinet slots — are taking charge of the portfolios in the hands of the Executive. They will not report to Parliament but will work through the relevant committees of the House.

It, therefore, goes without saying the Cabinet secretaries should not delude themselves about the weightlessness of the task ahead as well as the individual searing ray of scrutiny Kenyans have trained on them.

Bumpy stretch ahead

We live in a more inquisitive, curious and demanding society that monitors management of public affairs and ask the hard questions.

If in doubt just see what the storm Ruto’s jet hire has set off. Even if Jubilee Alliance has the numbers in the two Houses, there is no doubt that what the Deputy President is going through is discomforting, especially as it devalues his own description of himself as a ‘hustler’.

But let us veer off this debate for his lawyers are already at work.

The other issue we must remind these new appointees is that Kenyans expect them to blend ‘brutality’ with efficiency. Because they are not politicians they ideally should be free to make painful decisions that politicians would not do.

The fact that the 18, or even 22, will be doing the work of over 40 Cabinet members in the previous government, means they too must enforce the ethos of hard work, efficiency and cost-saving. This is no easy task especially when we have a public service and Houses that are more keen at sharing the little cake on the table without a care as to how to bake a bigger one to satisfy all.

Even if they are not politicians, they nonetheless are appointees of politicians, and are also beneficiaries of a political process.

They are now in a vulnerable position where they must juggle the balls of survival, delivery of the Jubilee promise, and unrealistic and even criminal demands by their masters.

This means is that after the honeymoon, they will be expected to cut certain corners in favour of their political backers.  That is when the tyre meets the scorching tarmac. So, be prepared for the bumpy stretch ahead because politicians are just that; what matters to them most is financial and political health.

Also, please wash the cup you have been given until it knows it has never been washed like that before.

Let Kenyans remember the first batch of the Cabinet members appointed under the new Constitution as heroes and heroines who set a strong foundation for government of technocrats.

Finally, I hope the ‘tyranny of numbers’ that saw you sail through won’t turn out to be a double-edged knife, that tenderpreneurs and the merchants of corruption will hold against your backs once the honeymoon is over. 

Writer is Managing Editor, The County Weekly, at The Standard.

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