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New CSs on the spot over 'roadside' orders before first Cabinet meeting

CSs Aisha Jumwa (left) and Moses Kuria. Inset, DP Rigathi Gachagua. [File, Standard]

A week since Cabinet secretaries were sworn into office, some have captured attention with bold policy declarations.

On Tuesday, Trade CS Moses Kuria declared that President William Ruto’s government would ban mitumba (secondhand clothing) after providing cheaper alternatives through a revamped textile industry.

The declaration was met mostly with ridicule by government critics who saw it as a policy U-turn by a president who flipped-flopped on the mitumba subject during the campaigns.

Earlier on, President Ruto, then a candidate in the August 9 election, had said he would revamp the textile industry with a view to gradually phase out mitumba. But a gaffe by his rival Raila Odinga, whose message of enhancing the textile industry to provide an alternative to mitumba was stronger, forcing Ruto to retreat in his anti-mitumba push. And he would criticise Raila for the stance.

Ruto’s Cabinet is yet to meet, raising questions on whether such a policy decision despite featuring in the Kenya Kwanza manifesto had been approved, or whether it amounted to the infamous roadside declarations synonymous with previous governments. 

And on the same day Kuria was making the remarks, Public Service and Gender CS Aisha Jumwa directed that Huduma Centres be opened from 7am to 7pm.  On social media, Kenyans questioned whether the government would employ more workers to cover the increased hours (12, from the current 8), whether those working there would work in shifts or whether they would earn overtime allowances.

Such questions resulted from the fact that Jumwa did not highlight how the order was to be implemented. Neither did she issue specifics, only saying those working at Huduma Contact Centres would work on a shift basis.

A day earlier, Jumwa had said her ministry would review the salaries of civil servants and implement a pay rise within 100 days. But the role of reviewing salaries is constitutionally granted to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, and on Tuesday, the CS would seemingly concede so when she stated there would be “consultations” in implementing the increase in pay.

Ikiwa hela zipo tutafanya mambo (funds allowing, will increase their pay), Jumwa would say. “The intention is there.” Alego Usonga MP Sam Atandi describes the CSs as excited, saying they need to learn how the government works.

“Whatever CSs say in public are assumed to be government policy, which ought to be made by the Cabinet... The Cabinet has not sat. Where are they getting such statements from?” he poses.

Slightly over a month ago, with no CSs in place, it was the president and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua issuing controversial policy statements. They included a proposed directive on the return of the shamba system, which Gachagua made public, much to the consternation of conservationists.

Pale msituni kulikuwa na shamba system. Wananchi wanapewa wanalima mahindi wanapalilia miti, miti ikiwa kubwa wanaondoka… tumetoa order wananchi wapewe nafasi walime misitu (We will implement the shamba system in our forests. Farmers will plant maize and trees. They will leave once the trees are grown... We have issued an order to have the public cultivate in forests),” Gachagua said in September.

He would later say he had been misquoted, clarifying that the government would not allow farmers into forests.

Ruto had his embarrassing moment when he revoked Kenya’s recognition of Western Sahara on social media, only to swallow his words.

More recently, many have faulted some of his proposed policies such as increasing taxes, a role reserved for Parliament, legitimising the growing and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and reopening companies and factories closed for allegedly contravening the law.

Two weeks ago, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka faulted the president for unilaterally making policy decisions, such as disbanding the Special Service Unit of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. Roadside declarations have generally been frowned upon, given they have rarely been backed by research, with little consultation while arriving at them.

Former administrations have also faced criticism for issuing such pronouncements, with the late former President Mwai Kibaki’s administration lauded for largely avoiding them owing to its inclusion of researchers in the formulation of policies.

Governance analyst Tom Mboya contends that roadside declarations are often not implemented. “Many of them are impossible to implement, owing to factors such as the unavailability of resources,” he says. “We are currently operating under severe economic situations and any policy direction must consider that.”