Is new cadre of top civil servants necessary?

President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG
President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The new cadre of political appointees known as chief administrative secretaries are going to cause a Tower of Babel inside the Public Service bureaucracy.

In a bureaucracy, the most critical thing are clear reporting lines. Yet we now have a cadre of political appointees sitting between the office of the principal secretary and that of cabinet secretary.

For now, we must all stand by for turf wars and jurisdictional disputes as the chief administrative secretaries will want to flex their muscles.

And we must expect more power struggles within the bureaucracy because the cadre is coming into space at a time of growing confusion over the vexed issue of who between the principal secretary and cabinet secretary should be in charge of the day- to- day running of ministries.

Under the old order, the accounting officer of a ministry was the permanent secretary. The cabinet minister more or less functioned as the political head of the ministry and link between the ministry and the Cabinet.

Cabinet ministers did not engage in day-to-day running of ministries.

Somewhere along the line, things changed. Under an arrangement adopted in 2014 during the reign of Ms Anne Waiguru as the Cabinet Secretary in charge of public service, a decision was made to give cabinet secretaries powers over day-to-day running of ministries.

They were made to assume the role of ‘authorised officer’- meaning that they were to be the ‘accounting officers’ when it came to the human resources function.
The principal secretary assumed the role of accounting officer in charge of public financial management.

That is how we have the arrangement today where the cabinet secretary sits as chair of the entity known as the ministerial human resources management committee, which presides over promotions, employment under delegated authority- especially of low cadre staff.

In retrospect, this system appears to have been introduced to merely give cabinet secretaries at the time powers to employ their cronies.

Being politicians and election losers who will be just too eager to demonstrate to their constituents that their new appointments are not without substance, I see the chief administrative secretaries storming into office with demands for trappings of power, including huge red-carpeted offices, expensive four-wheel drive vehicles and powers to hire employees.

They will demand a budget, huge salaries and clear responsibility and staff. The impact on the burden of taxpayer wages may overwhelm us. Chief administrative secretaries will further bloat a state apparatus that has expanded wildly within a very short span of time.

We have 47 governors driving huge fuel guzzlers in villages, all at the expense of the taxpayer.

The National Assembly is twice its former size. On top of it- you have 47 senators and thousands of county assembly members, all on high salaries funded by the taxpayer.

The number of constitutional offices have proliferated. County governments are hiring executive members and boards on very high salaries.

Where on earth is the fiscal space to fund President Uhuru Kenyatta’s four growth pillars going to come from?

In theory, we can increase taxes. But in view of the fact we already collect in excess of 24 per cent of GDP in taxes, do we really have the scope for collecting more money without creating distortions in the macro economy? Is introducing taxes a realistic option?

In the circumstances we are in right now, the realistic option for us is to focus on collecting taxes more efficiently and how to broaden the tax base further.

Neither is borrowing an option for us. We have borrowed as never before both domestically and in international markets.

Just the other day, we were on the brink of defaulting on commercial loans and had to seek postponement and accommodation from international lenders.

But does it make sense to borrow more money to pay the salaries of chief administrative secretaries?

President Kenyatta should not have introduced this cadre because the priority for us now should be how to cut unproductive general administration expenditure.