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Thugge is back after four years in the cold

Former National Treasury PS. Kamau Thugge responds to audit queries when he appeared before National Assembly Public Accounts Committee at Parliament on Thursday July 5, 2018. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

After nearly four years in the cold, former long-serving Treasury technocrat Kamau Thugge is back in public service.

President William Ruto on Friday appointed Dr Thugge to the role of senior adviser and head of fiscal and budget policy in the Executive Office of the President.

Thugge is among a group of economists and experienced technocrats who have been appointed by Dr Ruto to help steer the battered economy and implement the bottom-up economic model touted by the ruling Kenya Kwanza administration as the panacea to the country’s economic woes.

Thugge has been picked alongside David Ndii (chairperson, President’s Council of Economic Advisers), Augustine Cheruiyot (Senior Adviser and Head of Economic Transformation Secretariat), Mohammed Hassan (Member, President’s Council of Economic Advisers), and Nancy Laibuni (Associate Member, President’s Council of Economic Advisers).

They will be part of a “dream team” of advisers who will be called upon to help the new administration fulfill its pledges to create jobs and improve incomes.

The team will work closely with former Central Bank Governor Njuguna Ndung’u who was earlier tapped as Finance Cabinet Secretary to steer the economy through rising inflation, a heavy debt burden, and drought.

The new team faces the uphill task of helping the Ruto administration stabilise government finances and bring surging living costs under control.

Kenya’s public debt ballooned to Sh8.6 trillion in June, from Sh1.9 trillion in 2013 when the previous administration came to office, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) classifies the country as being at high risk of debt distress.

Thugge was hounded of office as Treasury Principal Secretary after being linked to a multi-billion dam project corruption probe in 2019.

President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Julius Muia to replace Thugge in July 2019 following the multi-billion Arror-Kimwarer dams scandal case.

Thugge had been part of a team of Treasury mandarins who had set and dominated the tone of the management of public finances for over a decade.

He had earlier worked in the Ministry of Finance in various capacities, among them as the head of the fiscal and monetary affairs department, economic secretary, and as senior economic adviser.

Before joining the Treasury, he worked at the International Monetary Fund as an economist.

Thugge opted to be a State witness in the dam’s case, turning the heat on his former boss, Henry Rotich.

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji withdrew charges against Thugge, saying the former PS would become a State witness in the case in which they were among the people accused of jointly conspiring to defraud the government of $501,829,769 (Sh61 trillion) by entering into a deal to construct the two dams in Elgeyo Marakwet County without approval.

They allegedly committed the offence between December 17, 2014 and January 31, 2019.

It was not the first time Thugge had found himself in the eye of the storm.

In October 2016, former Prime Minister leader Raila Odinga accused Treasury officials of failing to account for the proceeds of Kenya’s first Eurobond.

On Thursday Ruto created a new structure of government that includes economic and budget-focused offices domiciled at the State House, underlining his bid to have a tighter grip on the budget-making process.

They include the Office of the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of the Fiscal Affairs and Budget Policy, and the Office of the Economic Transformation.

The new offices to be domiciled in the presidency will help Ruto’s administration oversight public finances and expenditures and ensure fiscal discipline.

Thugge will head the Office of Fiscal Affairs and Budget Policy.

The unit is expected to oversee the implementation of the President’s vision across the Executive branch, analysts said.

Like the White House Budget office, it will coordinate policy between the State House and Treasury.