Fresh outlook needed to transform parastatals


Water fountain around Mzee Jomo Kenyatta monument outside KICC and Parliament Buildings during the African Climate Summit on September 06, 2023. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Not too long ago, President William Ruto hinted that tens of Semi-Autonomous Government Agencies (SAGAs) generally referred to as parastatals, would soon cease to exist.

The primary logic cited for this radical move is that affected SAGAs are an outright drain to the Exchequer. This announcement, as expected, caused considerable disquiet among affected parties and for understandable reasons. 

In the prevailing circumstances, the foremost question on our minds should address what it will take to make our parastatals more viable. 

Before sharing my thoughts on this subject, let us establish a common understanding of what a modern-day SAGA should look like.

A 21st century SAGA should be driven by cutting-edge innovativeness, demonstrable efficiency and empathetic responsiveness to the needs of citizens.

SAGAs, by nature, are established to enjoy an elevated degree of independence, allowing them to adapt swiftly to changing circumstances while remaining aligned with the broader goals of the government. 

To ensure SAGAs are viable, a few governance-related considerations are necessary.  One, SAGAs should operate with utmost agility and flexibility in both decision-making and execution of programmes. Unburdened from traditional bureaucratic structures, SAGAs ideally enjoy greater freedom to adapt to emerging challenges. They approach opportunities with greater alacrity. Their ability to recalibrate policy direction in real-time is absolutely essential for addressing a range of dynamic and complex issues that may emerge from the blues at any one given moment. 

Two, SAGAs are well-placed by dint of their foundational principles to readily embrace innovation and engage experimentation with less encumbrances, both ingredients needed to open new horizons that herald transformation. Within organs of government, SAGAs are the closest one comes to the thinking — guided by the delivery of measurable value — embraced by the private sector. By encouraging circumspect risk-taking and fostering a culture of innovation, SAGAs can hasten progress by pushing unexplored potentialities. 

Three, progressive government agencies should be data-driven. They should understand the power of data and leverage analytics to assess real-world situations, identify emerging trends and inform policy decisions. Progressive SAGAs prioritise mechanisms that foster measurable performance goals.

Such an approach is a safeguard against ineffective use of resources and a tool for gauging the extent of delivery of tangible results. 

Four, collaboration and strategic partnerships are essential hallmarks of progressive SAGAs. In recognition of the fact that complex challenges often require a multidisciplinary approach, SAGAs must seek partnerships with other government entities, private sector organisations, the academia and civil society groups.

By leveraging diverse expertise and resources, SAGAs can amplify their impact and drive collective progress towards shared goals.

Five, prioritising adaptive leadership and talent development SAGAs can navigate uncertainty and complex situations that may emerge unexpectedly better. This can only be achieved through establishing a diverse and highly skilled workforce keen on driving innovation and creating change.

By nurturing a culture of continuous learning and development, SAGAs can empower their employees to thrive in inspiring and dynamic environments that hold the promise of impactful results.

In our increasingly complex and interconnected world, our SAGAs should consider undergoing the proverbial renewal of the eagle if they are to serve the purpose of current and future demands. 

The writer is a board director at Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation