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Ideas & Debate

It’s not all gloom and doom in government

Uhuru Kenyatta with Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i
President Uhuru Kenyatta with Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i (right) at a past event. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

We are at a time when we’re not sure whether to be depressed by all the bad news regarding the debt, corruption, unceasing politics and other ills that continue to drag Kenya down, or to be hopeful that initiatives such as the Handshake, the Big Four and the Multi-Sector Anti-Corruption Programme will lift us to a higher level.

Following the media it’s too easy to buy wholesale into the doomsday scenario, where our cynical mindsets see only more horror stories, ongoing impunity, and mere idle talk about dealing with all our very serious challenges.

In my column however, I do like airing positive stories, about earnest efforts that are constantly taking place behind the scenes to get us closer to fulfilling our extraordinary potential. On this page I can occasionally shine a light on the unsung heroes who do what they do not for the publicity and their ego but because they simply want to contribute to building a better Kenya.

Regular readers are familiar with my involvement with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), much of whose work – by design – takes place away from the glare of the media. And today I want to share something about what happened at a recent meeting between the Kepsa leadership and CS Fred Matiang’i, in his capacity as Chairman of the National Development Implementation and Communication Committee.

First, I was so impressed by the deep analysis that had been carried out by the relevant sectors – manufacturing, agriculture, health and housing. They clearly laid out the bottlenecks they were facing, coupled with very specific practical proposals on what the various arms of government must do to create a more enabling environment for the Big Four.

As I listened to the four presentations one thought was uppermost in my mind: the wish that Dr. Matiang’i would simply take the whole list of proposals and just have them be implemented. For I am convinced that were he and his colleagues to do so, we would indeed see our productivity and competitiveness transformed, and the desired national goals fulfilled.

Then, when Dr. Matiang’i responded he affirmed the basic premise that “the private sector is the engine of growth” and that “the business of government is to support business”.

Bureaucracy

He said the mission of his cabinet committee is to make the government more aligned and cohesive, readily admitting that bureaucracy is the enemy – as a result of which “nothing gets done, with those involved just going round in circles”.

“What matters,” he said, “is getting work done. It doesn’t matter who is boss; we are just concerned about outcomes, not just process.” He talked about taking decisions together, with courage and commitment, so as to resolve bottlenecks and fast-track project implementation. And this without endless memos and meetings, never mind having to go to Naivasha to hold them!

He explained that his cabinet committee meets every Tuesday morning, and then on Wednesday mornings the Technical Committee, composed of the PSs, immediately follows up.

The CS appreciated the pragmatic ideas offered by the private sector, and looked forward to building the partnership with us to the next stage. Specifically, he invited us to work with the Technical Committee, holding them accountable for delivery of the agreed actions and desired impact.

All this was music to the ears of us private sector listeners, and as the encounter reached its conclusion we heard expressions of feeling “refreshed” and “rejuvenated”, as we looked forward to a swift re-engineering of government (June of this year is the target), with fewer competing and conflicting institutions and regulations among other initiatives. It reminded me of the Rapid Results Approach, which to date has been applied in only a scattered few and ephemeral cases without it in any way building to the intended “new normal”.

So now we are at least seeing a serious opportunity to break through the stalemate. Let us not be unduly cynical, appreciating that much of the important work must be done without fanfare. So, as I have said before, know that there are plenty of very good and very impressive Kenyans – including in the public sector – who are working very hard at proving the naysayers wrong.

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