Ruto seeks to consolidate power by proposing sweeping law changes

President William Ruto. [Courtesy]

In a bid to consolidate power and streamline administrative functions, President William Ruto has published the National Government Administration Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023.

Whereas the proposed legislation seeks to create Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) positions and tinker with the National Security Council, it is the immense power it seeks to accord the Head of Public Service, an office currently held by Mr Felix Koskei, that is glaring. 

Apart from supporting the president “in facilitating the organisation and executing of government business” the officer shall be the administrative head of the executive office of the president and “shall be the custodian of the Public Seal and any other instruments of State that are not in the custody of any other person”.

The Attorney General has been the bearer of the seal that is part of the national symbols. The bill say the chief of staff shall serve at the president pleasure and will be the president’s chief of staff. 

The bill, presented by National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah, also outlines significant amendments that would reshape the landscape of the executive arm of the government, impacting the roles of Cabinet Secretaries (CS) and Principal Secretaries (PS) in Parliament and counties. Other arms of the government are the parliament and the judiciary.

If passed, it will shield CS and PS in Parliament and counties, with CAS assuming responsibilities such as liaising with legislative bodies, representing CS in meetings, and responding to issues within their assigned portfolios.

Each CAS will be accountable to the Attorney General, or CS, according to the proposed legislation, emphasising the gravity of their roles within the state structure.
“Each CAS shall be responsible to the Attorney General or CS in the performance of his or her duties. The office of the CAS shall be a state office,” the bill by Ichung’wah reads.

The bill comes on the heels of a High Court decision in July that declared President Ruto’s previous appointment of 50 CAS as unconstitutional. The proposed legislation aims to address the legal gaps by providing the establishment and functions of the Head of Public Service and CAS offices.

“The bill proposes to amend the National Government Coordination Act to provide for the establishment and functions of the Head of Public Service and offices of the CAS,” reads the bill. Moreover, the bill grants expanded powers to the Head of Public Service allowing him to also control the National Security Council.

The reorganisation includes the creation of the National Security Committee, tasked with recommending programmes and activities related to national security, foreign affairs, and defence.

Security interests

The committee, chaired by the Head of Public Service, comprises key figures such as the Chief of Defence Force, the Director General of the National Intelligence Service, the Inspector General of Police, the Solicitor General, and various principal secretaries.
While the law provides for committees of the National Security Council, the proposed legislation also seeks to introduce the National Security Committee.

This committee, chaired by the Head of Public Service, will recommend programmes and activities related to national security interests, foreign affairs, and national defence.

Notably, the bill introduces the position of National Advisor, nominated by the President, who will automatically assume the role of National Security Advisor, introducing a new office in the Executive on matters of national security.

“A vacancy in the membership of the committee shall not affect the decisions of the committee,” the bill, which intends “to amend the statute law on national government administration and for connected purposes,” states. The committee’s responsibilities encompass proposing policies and programmes related to national security, supervising council resolutions, and alerting authorities to potential threats.

“The Secretary of the National Security Council shall be the secretary to the committee,” states the bill, emphasising the pivotal role of this committee in overseeing the implementation of the council’s decisions.

Administrative framework

The proposed amendments to the National Security Council, the office of the Attorney General, and the National Coordination Act signal a comprehensive restructuring of the country’s administrative framework.

“Additionally, the bill also seeks to enhance the representation of the president-elect in the committee by increasing the number of representatives of the president from three to six,” the bill reads.

While the bill emphasises that it does not interfere with the functions and powers of county governments, it acknowledges the potential for additional public expenditure.

As the bill proposes substantial changes to the Executive, it is expected to undergo thorough debate in parliament and then public participation before it goes back to parliament for the second round of debate.