LETTERS: Is it time for non-economist to run Treasury?

National Treasury building
The National Treasury building in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The latest appointments by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and the European Central Bank (ECB) have dispelled the notion that such institutions should be led by persons with basic training as economists.

The outgoing president of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, a trained lawyer, has been nominated for the presidency of the ECB.

Likewise, the current president of the World Bank David Robert Malpass studied physics and has an MBA.

There has been a practice in Kenya that to be either the principal (formerly permanent) secretary or Cabinet Secretary (formerly minister) in charge of the finance docket, one has to have a minimum qualification of being an economist.

Out of the 15 previous ministers of finance, more than 60 percent are known to have had training in economics.


Among the notable ministers who were economists are former President Mwai Kibaki, Henry Rotich, John Michuki, Chris Okemo, Dr Francis Masakhalia and Arthur Magugu. Some principal (or permanent) secretaries who were economists are Dr Kamau Thugge and Joseph Kinyua.

This then begs the question; is there a correlation between performance and the basic training one has?

What could have informed the appointment of the presidents of the World Bank, IMF and ECB?

One fact is clear, that it is not the basic training in economics even though their work mainly deals with matters economic growth and international monetary systems.

In its 2018 annual ranking report of top-performing Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) around the world, the Harvard Business Review observed that of the top 100 CEOs in 2018, 34 had an engineering degree, as compared with 32 who had an MBA.

Eight of the top CEOs had both degrees.

In 2017, 29 CEOs had MBAs and 32 had engineering degrees, the first time that there were fewer MBAs than engineers since 2014, when they began tracking the degree question.

As President Uhuru Kenyatta considers his substantive appointment to the position of Cabinet Secretary to the National Treasury, he needs to see beyond the traditional appointment of economists to run this docket.

He may borrow a leaf from Mr Kibaki who appointed Mr Amos Kimunya an accountant, Mr Njeru Githae, a lawyer and Mr David Mwiraria a statistician to the position of minister of finance.

Being a non-economist requires that you be ready to listen to all advice and consider all available options before making economic decisions without any prejudice.

Andrew K. Tanui comments on governance and public policy, via email.