Ezekiel Machogu: A prolific manager is what the Education ministry needs

Ezekiel Machogu, Education Cabinet Secretary nominee. ILLUSTRATION | JOSPEH BARASA | NMG

His would-be predecessors at the Education ministry were towering academics, with the outgoing one, Prof George Magoha, boasting perhaps the longest CV in former President Uhuru Kenyatta's Cabinet.

Last Friday, the parliamentary vetting committee sought to poke holes in his academic qualifications, citing his Bachelor’s degree obtained 43 years ago.

But Ezekiel Machogu, President William Ruto's Education Cabinet Secretary nominee, maintains he is equal to the task of tackling the country's education challenges at the helm of a ministry whose other recent bosses were Prof Joseph Kaimenyi, Dr Fred Matiang’i and Amina Mohammed.

Should Parliament approve him for appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mr Machogu will have his in-tray full.

Kenyans will be waiting to see how he will handle the financial crunch in public universities, teacher shortage in schools and implementation of the competency-based curriculum (CBC).

The career civil servant who previously served as a District Commissioner is categorical that he will not tolerate impunity against government directives and that cartels at the Ministry of Education better pack up and leave.

“I am a manager, I’ve been tested and I am a prolific administrator— which is exactly what this ministry needs to be able to move to the next level,” he told the vetting committee on Friday.

Mr Machogu, whose declared net worth of Sh590 million is made up of buildings and apartments in Nairobi and Mombasa as well as parcels of land in Kisii, says he will ensure that taxpayers' money in the ministry is accounted for.

He notes he was not a millionaire but became one in early 2000 when he won a case and was awarded Sh10 million in compensation for being wrongfully accused of tendering. The amount accrued interest, making the government pay him Sh14.87 million.

The immediate former MP for Nyaribari Masaba says if confirmed for appointment, he will within the first month in office ensure the University Funding Board (UFB) is operatonalised so that student capitation challenges in public universities can be addressed.

The institutions of higher learning are currently struggling to honour obligations such as payroll taxes, retirement benefits, and insurance premiums for employees.

Financial crunch

So dire is the financial crunch at public universities that Egerton University lecturers, for example, are paid 57 percent of their salaries. Moi University announced it will be declaring a staff redundancy to manage its wage bill.

Kenya has experienced perennial lecturer strikes that have been blamed on collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) being implemented out of their cycles and delays in the release of funds by the government.

In 2016, the State started sponsoring students in private universities, a move that many have opposed, arguing it is denying public universities funding, worsening their financial woes.

“This is a legislative matter and I will be able to liaise with Parliament to relook the matter,” said Mr Machogu, who graduated from the University of Nairobi (UoN) in 1979.

As part of the remedy to universities' financial woes, he believes that the institutions should seriously seek alternative means of generating revenue, including engaging in commercial agriculture and tapping into research and innovation.

He says it is about time universities also rationalised staff so that they do not overshoot their budgets and that he plans to have engagements with vice-chancellors to find a lasting solution.

Discussions on having an endowment fund will also be held. The endowment fund is a pool of assets invested by a college or university to support its educational and research mission in perpetuity. Typically, it comprises hundreds or thousands of individual donations.

Upon graduation, Mr Machogu was employed as a civil servant, serving as a district officer in Nyeri, Nyandarua, Kiambu, and Kirinyaga, before being promoted to a district commissioner, with postings in Nyandarua and Busia. He later served as deputy provincial commissioner for Coast province.

The father of five has also served in the central government in various ministries, including Public Service, Commerce and Trade, before retiring in October 2016. The one-term legislator for Nyaribari Masaba contested the Kisii gubernatorial race on a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket but lost to Simba Arati in the August polls.

He was among Kisii politicians that dived against the strong Azimio la Umoja wave to hand President William Ruto crucial votes.

The Kenya Kwanza administration is keen on addressing concerns raised by stakeholders on the CBC and has mandated a team of 42 experts to collect views and make recommendations within six months.

Mr Machogu will be walking a tightrope ensuring the CBC implementation picks momentum or overseeing its abolishing at the risk of wasting the millions of shillings of taxpayers’ money that had been injected into the curriculum overhaul.

Parents in low-income brackets have over the recent past decried the “numerous hidden costs” of keeping their children in school under the education system that emphasises practical skills rather than theory.

Parents have raised concerns about secondary schools defying the Ministry of Education guidelines on fees and imposing illegal levies spread across the school terms.

“I will create systems and the structures are already in place to ensure parents are not subjected to unnecessary levies. Rest assured that no illegal levies will be imposed under my watch,” Mr Machogu said.

Open-door policy

He promises to maintain an open-door policy to bolster engagements with various education stakeholders including unions for the good of the sector. Many thought his predecessor, Prof Magoha, was unapproachable and unfriendly, especially to members of the press.

The Kenya Kwanza administration has committed to employing 116,000 teachers within two years to bridge the biting teachers’ shortage. The plan is to employ 30,000 teachers across the country beginning in January.

“And as the economy becomes vibrant I will be asking Parliament to approve funding to enable us to hire more teachers,” he said.

He intends to institutionalise internship programmes to make it cost-effective and make it easier to absorb graduants into employment.

In his closing remarks before the vetting committee, Mr Machogu stated that he is up to the task.

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