An institutional proposal to aid the fight on corruption

It is meet to create a substantive office of Secretary to the Cabinet, to arrange government business, provide honest brokerage between State departments/ministries and agencies and offer direction on what the President wants to achieve

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By Leonard Wanyama

Let me paint you a picture.

Sometime in 2015, Kenyan Members of Parliament roundly rejected the nomination of Dr Monica Juma as the next Secretary to the Cabinet on malicious grounds. Dr Juma had, in her previous position as Principal Secretary in the Interior Department, strongly asserted herself, thereby blocking avenues for graft that were specifically perpetrated by Members of Parliament and other powerful forces.

This was in the early days when the President Uhuru Kenyatta had first begun to express his frustration with corruption in his office, which resulted in the transfer of a number of ranking procurement officers.

She was then transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (MFA&IT) as part of a government restructuring of State departments from 26 to 41, so that Principal Secretaries could have more direct management of affairs to curtail corruption.

Going by the President’s recent exasperated admonishment of responsible State agencies in the fight against corruption, it has always been clear that these two acts – transfers and reorganisation of government – do not work.

My second stroke of the brush will remind you how, earlier this year, Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) Director Musa Hassan Musa was fired together with the head of engineering services and operations boss. His sacking came after the President made an impromptu visit to the KFS headquarters in Likoni; but trouble had started brewing earlier, late in 2015, when Coast Regional Coordinator Nelson Marwa accused Musa of incompetence and corruption. Marwa was bold enough to declare he would ensure Musa was replaced.

I conclude the masterpiece with an observation on how, weeks after the State House Governance Summit, the continuous revelations of graft by individuals – within ministries both at the national and county levels – have been explained mostly in terms of moral arguments as to why the administration is not seriously tackling the vice.

These ethical perspectives are hinged on the constitution and charge that on account of the personalities in power and the politics surrounding them, they lack the political will and therefore have no capacity to suffer or endure costs that may upset some constituencies and please anyone other than themselves.

Secretary to the Cabinet

What is, however, apparent from the buck-passing witnessed at the State House Summit on governance between the offices of the Attorney General (State Law Office), the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Judiciary, is that a lack of coordination is screaming right in their faces.
So who or what organ is the custodian of the President’s agenda in the fight against corruption? Which institution should take care of coordinating things and dealing with the evident crisis of theft that occurs in the blink of an eye at every turn?

EACC comes at the top of anyone’s mind on account of its constitutional prominence as the lead in the fight against corruption. However, history has proven that powerful interests and beneficiaries of corruption are quick to vandalise such entities. Are there any other solutions?

An answer seems to lie in the fact that the country does not have a substantive Secretary to the Cabinet. Among other functions, the Constitution charges this office with the responsibility of arranging government business on the authority of Cabinet. The reasoning here is that if State agencies and departments are uncoordinated, then, with the direction of the President, they should charge that responsibility to an office(r) that can help in that function.

Much like what the National Security Advisor is to the President of the United States, the Kenyan Secretary to the Cabinet should have an administrative role that goes beyond proper management of correspondence, to oversee the administrative agenda and handling of inter-agency communication.

Honest brokerage between ministries, departments and agencies would be the key role for the holder of the office; as a principal advisor, such an individual should have the clout to influence fellow secretaries, heads or departments or agencies to move in a similar direction with what the President wants to do.

In this role, the Secretary to the Cabinet should not try and become an alternative power centre, as this would interfere with the implementation mandate of his or her colleagues. This means in daily workings a secretary to the cabinet should have no involvement in operational matters, or execution of relevant departments or agencies; rather, s/he would work as the principal coordinating body between them.

Non-coordination between the current anti-corruption efforts is therefore glaring because completion of cases doesn’t happen on time, especially because there lacks seamless collaboration between individuals and their officers. Therefore, a Secretary to the Cabinet should have the professional understanding to harmonise the action from all relevant offices.

Essentially, this could mean resuscitation of a role somewhat similar to the old Chief Secretary. Currently, that would mean a clear redefinition of the role by Joseph Kinyua. Either, as Chief of Staff in the Executive Office of the President, he officially becomes the Secretary to the Cabinet on account of being the head of public service, or his position is scrapped altogether.

A revamped Secretary to the Cabinet should have the holder as the sole head of public service instead of the current arrangement where the transformation component is run by the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs under CS Sicily Kariuki.

Recover legitimacy

It should also take up the functions of the former provincial administration, currently bestowed to the Ministry of Interior, Special Programmes and the official government spokesperson. Organising these under an Office or Bureau for State Administration would allow such coordinative capacities in the fight against corruption to reach the grassroots, and afford direct interaction with the citizenry.

This will primarily centre the office to enable smooth functioning and bureaucratic continuity on one hand, while releasing the Ministry of Interior to focus on establishing a homeland security orientation that is highly desired.

With such an arrangement, the President may recover the legitimacy needed to tackle corruption and prove that indeed there might still be some will to fight the scourge.
I imagine that this is the kind of position that can easily be reconfigured into a non-executive Prime Minister without having to change the Constitution, and with enough clout to garner the requisite political legitimacy on account of the regional balancing necessary for national cohesion and State stability.

Author is a development practitioner and a part time lecturer of International Relations; @lennWanyama

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