What awaits Uhuru's new ministers
Five years after he was first sworn in, President Uhuru Kenyatta is faced with an opportunity to make things right within the ranks of his lieutenants. Weeks after being sworn in and given a fresh mandate, he can now select a new breed of Cabinet Secretaries willing to help him deliver on some of his key pre- election promises.
The in-tray of those coming into the much sought after positions are full from past promises. The Saturday Standard takes a look at what awaits those coming in.
Kenyatta’s tenure has seen the country’s defence arms get an upgrade in terms of equipment and personnel. However, the incoming Defence Minister will have to grapple with other emerging issues like a suitable exit plan from Somalia and securing our borders from periodic raids of neighbouring nations such as Ethiopia. Graft, that has been rampant not only in Uhuru’s Cabinet but in those before him as well will also need to be addressed.
If the current Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiangi’ is changed, his successor will have the arduous task of filling his rather large shoes. Under his watch cases of exam fraud have disappeared, candidates are getting their results in record time and universities and other institutions of higher learning are finally being forced to clean up their act. Education has been one of the standout ministries during Uhuru’s first-term. Matiang’i’s predecessor will have to sustain the pressure of the standards set. The new office holder will also have to grapple with pending Collective Bargaining Agreements and burden of Free Secondary Education, as well as dealing with the ambitions of having a 100 per cent transition rate from primary school to secondary school.
Kenyatta’s government inherited a rich portfolio of projects from Mwai Kibaki’s administration. Most of these, including building of new roads and completion of the first phase of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) remain the hallmarks of his first term. However, other challenges persist. The LAPSETT transport corridor still remains on paper. Major urban spaces are congested with little being done to provide solutions to persistent problems such as traffic. The new office holder should perhaps concentrate, in conjunction with the county governments, on providing simple solutions to the transport problems faced daily by Kenyans. They will also have the headache of figuring out how to monetise and make profitable one of Kenya’s most expensive infrastructure projects, the SGR, that cost Sh327 billion.
Devolution and Planning
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The friction and distrust between the State and devolved units of government persist to this day. Perennial delays of cash and the clashing of Central Government and County Government over devolved functions should be a key agenda to whoever will occupy this post. The new Minister will also have to contend with the power plays at the top echelons of Government, at the centre of which is the control of key ministries in government and Devolution is one of them.
This is one of the worst performing ministries in the first five years of this government. Everything that could go wrong in the Ministry went wrong. From scandal to one of the longest lasting industrial protests in the world. A new appointee may first have to look into the Health Ministry closet to make sure there are no future surprises. More than 50 years after independence, the country is still grappling with diseases such as cholera. Our war on non-communicable diseases remains funded by donors almost in its entirety. The next five years should see the Ministry of Health move away from these man-made shortcomings and work towards making the lives of Kenyans better.
The Ministry of Environment can be credited with the intense lobbying of European and Asian countries to adopt complete bans in the trade of items made from ivory or rhino horn. Another major milestone will be the banning of polythene bags, a move that many felt was long overdue. The new occupant in the Ministry will have to keep up the fights started by CS Judi Wakhungu and come up with other ways to make Kenyans think green.
Water and Irrigation
Like Transport, the Water and Irrigation Ministry is project heavy. Several mega damns scattered across the country have been planned for the long-term. Most of them in the conceptualisation stage. The new Minister will be obligated to ensure that these projects are delivered within the specified timelines and most importantly within budget. S/he will also have to deal with the promise of the Galana Kulalu project, which has proven to be not only an unshakeable monkey CS Eugene Wamalwa’s shoulder.
Finance and Treasury
The biggest blight in the Finance and Treasury Ministry is the ballooning of debt and the contentious Eurobond. Kenya has never been in as much debt as it is with the government’s appetite for borrowing increasing almost daily. The individual who will take up this post will have to balance the country’s debt ration as well as having the unnerving task of telling Kenyans the true usage of the Eurobond billions.
Sports and Culture
It has been a mixed five years for Sports and Culture Ministry. First the debacles. The Rio games embarrassment where our treasured athletes were treated like second class citizens by their own federations. The Minister was at hand to vociferously defend the dubious decisions made in the run up to the games then came the near ban by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over allegations of non- cooperation in the war against doping. Then the incident where some of our best athletes were convicted and banned over doping allegations. Harambee Stars continued their deep in form. Confusion and a lack of seriousness saw us lose the hosting rights for the CHAN Championships. The new minister will have a load of shovelling to do to bring back some sanity at this Ministry.
Agriculture and Livestock
The newcomer will have to deal with perennial food shortages. A collapsing agricultural extension officer sector, price fluctuation for farm produce and the army worm infestation that will surely reduce maize yields from different parts of the country. Alternative modes of agriculture and a flailing cash crop industry should also be top on the agenda. The new office holder will have to think beyond his predecessors, who continue to believe that Kenya’s food security almost entirely lies in the provision of subsidised fertiliser.
Interior and Coordination of National Government
Soon after taking office, Uhuru’s Interior Ministry was faced with the challenge of defending the nation against an enemy hell bent on inflicting as much damage to the country as possible. Kenya suffered attack after attack in different parts of the country. Lives were lost sometimes due to poor coordination between State security agencies. The last couple of years have been relatively peaceful in comparison to earlier years. The incumbent will need to ensure the peace is kept, but also play the delicate balance of abiding by the law when keeping the peace and desist from using brutal force to quash dissenting voices.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade
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The biggest achievement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the success of the shuttle diplomacy of Ambassador Amina Abdalla as she lobbied African States to go against the International Criminal Court. Her Ministry can also be credited with the eventual freeing of Kenyans jailed in South Sudan. However, experts believe that Kenya has over the years got her diplomatic might wore down due to a lack of identity and clear foreign relations policy with regard to how she deals with her neighbours. Key issues remain unresolved. Territorial disputes with Uganda and Somalia should also be a key item on the to-do list of whoever will take over this key ministry.
Public Service and Youth and Gender Affairs
Perhaps the biggest failing will be seemingly unwillingness of the government to adopt the two thirds rule that will ensure some sort of gender parity in public office. Kenya still trails many of her neighbours in achieving this balance. Top of the agenda for this Minister will be furthering this debate to ensure both women and youth get a place at the table of decision-making.
One of the mainstays of the economy, the Tourism Ministry remains key for any government. The current Minister Najib Balala, with many years of experience in matters tourism, has brought back much needed visibility. Were he to leave, his successor will not only have to match his high energy but continue to pursue other attractions apart from the traditional beach and safari selling points that would enable Kenya outcompete her rivals.
Big money projects. The good? Thousands of homes have been connected to the national grid after years of waiting. Previously, connectivity was a privileged of the rich. However power costs remain prohibitively high, a fact that has led to industrialists abandoning Kenya for the relative cheap power in neighbouring emerging economies. Going forward the Ministry will have to look at the completion of stalled power projects including the Turkana Wind Farm project and the Lamu Coal power project.
Labour and East African Affairs
Kenyatta’s first five years have been marked with industrial unrest. Teachers, doctors, nurses, tea workers and a host of other professions went to the streets to demand better pay. Issues of striking workers took too long to resolve with some like the nurses strike stretching past six months. On the east African front, Kenya feels less integrated to the rest of the region. Aggressive stances by our neighbours, like Tanzania’s refusal to let Kenyan- registered tour vans cross over into Arusha, have on many occasions left Kenya looking weak. Anyone who takes up this position will have to learn the ropes of regional geopolitics to make a difference.
Land, Housing and Urban Development
Kenyans are still waiting for the digitisation of records at the Lands Ministry. The cartels that have caused misery for thousands of land owners continue to thrive. All this has been compounded by turf wars between the Minister and the Lands Commission at the expense of the tax payer. Priorities will be to get rid of the rot at the Ministry. Priority will be to fully digitise the records and continue with the issuance of title deeds to families who have never owned the land on which they have lived on for generations.
Industrialisation and Enterprise
The Jubilee manifesto promised to build building a 21st Century hi-tech industrial revolution. On paper, the plan was to continue to develop transport, ICT and energy infrastructure so that the country attracts global industry and with it a huge expansion in sustainable, high quality, hi-tech jobs for everyone. Unemployment still persists, with millions of qualified youth unable to get jobs. Industries have shut down with expensive capital resulting in the closing down of numerous SMEs that would ordinarily spur the economy.