With Fred Matiang’i, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior, what you see is what you get. In his words, “there are no two ways about it.” He does not place much emphasis on unravelling himself; that, he says, is the job of the public he serves. He is a state officer after all, and there is no shortage of people who would like to unpackage his life. He is not the kind of person to put fences around himself; if it is pleasing to the mind, he will work with it. To him, for example, all books are as seeming as they are profound. He does not dwell on the mechanics of stuff, just the function. He owes his character and discipline to his father, whom he says he is a replica of.
As self-effacing a man as you will ever find, he does not believe in “jumping in”, and it took some convincing after we met before he agreed to be interviewed. His biggest mission in public service is attitude change, so that phrases like “conversational collaborative culture” and “migrating from the old order of the mongrel constitution” easily roll off his tongue”. He sat down with NLM’s Kevin Motaroki in the Executive boardroom of his Jogoo House office and spoke about reform, service delivery and transformation.
The mandate of the ministry of Interior and Coordination of National government is huge: you could fit several other ministries into it, and then throw in a few agencies for good measure, and still have enough space to create more. Yet, Dr Fred Matiang’i’s personality is enough to fill it up and not create the feeling that he is overwhelmed. This is the impression I got during my first one-on-one encounter with him. He seems to have rewritten the curriculum, which outlines his focus on reform and service delivery. He likes to know what’s happening around him.
Dr Matiang’i has a perspective on public service that most, especially the public clientele he serves, fails to see. He sees “immensely knowledgeable people, teeming with vast experience and skills that could do wonders for this country.” The tragedy, he says, is that most choose to look at one plane on the rubric, which is invariably the one everybody highlights: the bad, the ugly, the rotten. But that is just one out of many, and “there are beautiful experiences to be had in public service.”
“You have to understand,” he begins, “I am a program officer, which means I am naturally inclined to know what is going on around me. My work is my project, where I am pursuing an agenda entrusted to me. I am answerable to the President, who trusts me to handle my affairs with efficiency and skill, and my job is such that I may be summoned on the spur; it won’t do if I am told to account for something under my docket, and my first response is ‘let me get back to you, Sir’.”
His attempts to take the chaos out of the public service continuum have been alive since his days in the civil service, where he distinguished himself as an astute researcher, particularly in governance. This quality became apparent during his time with the Kenya Parliamentary Strengthening Project, where he demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to secure stakeholder buy-in and facilitate programme objectives. These were immediately apparent when he first appointed to Cabinet, first at the ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, and then to Education where he left a strong legacy of reform, accountability and service delivery.
But it is in his time at the ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government that he is likely to leave his biggest mark, the catalogue of challenges at the docket notwithstanding.
Inevitably, resistance ha…
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