PSC deserves support to restore order


A past cabinet sitting chaired by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 12, 2022. PHOTO | PSCU

The incoming administration will soon start taking shape after new positions for principal secretaries were advertised this week. In the past, PSs rose through the ranks of the civil service to this top position.

But with the advent of the 2010 Constitution, which stipulates that a new president appoints them from a list of individuals who have been interviews and shortlisted by the Public Service Commission, things changed.

When the first Jubilee Administration came to power in 2013, interviews were conducted. But in 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed principal secretaries without conducting interviews. How many of these jobs are on offer?

It will depend on the number of State departments the government of President William Ruto will create. In order to reduce the size of the civil service bureaucracy, the framers put a cap in the number of ministries that a new government can establish to 24.

As it turned out, politicians interpreted it as an attempt to limit their powers to dispense patronage to their cronies. They decided to circumvent this provision of the constitution by exercising their powers to create and abolish State departments each headed by a PS.

Today, the Ministry of Transport has a total of five principal secretaries. Agriculture, four, ICT, four, education three, sports three, and devolution three. Out of a total of 22 ministries, only Defence, Foreign Affairs, water and lands have a single PS. The remaining have two each.

The Jubilee government made the situation worse by introducing a new and amorphous cadre called Chief Administrative Officers (CAS’s). The ministries of Education and ICT have two CAS’s each.

In the interest of having a lean civil service bureaucracy that is able to run a marathon, and in a context of a wage bill that is projected by the Salaries Review Commission to balloon to a level of Sh 958 billion at the end of the current financial year, President William Ruto should not only abolish the positions of CAS’s but also resist the temptation of creating multiple State departments.

Being a principle secretary job is an all expenses life with fat allowance including access to those big tax-payer-maintained fuel-guzzling behemoths.

President Ruto should lead the country in a national conversation on how to improve the administrative capacity of the civil service, depoliticise the bureaucratic apparatus, professionalise bureaucracy and how to create and build a new generation of highly trained team leaders.

I find myself reflecting on recent shifts in influence in key centres of power. The advent of the phenomenon of ‘super minister’ and the elevated position that Interior Cabinet secretary, Dr Fred Matiang’i, enjoyed was perhaps the clearest defining feature of the new architecture.

Then there was the attempt by the bureaucracy at Harambee House — as the Office of the President is known — to claw back the power and influence that it used to command before the advent of devolution. Interior principal secretary, Dr Karanja Kibicho, appeared to enjoy a first among equals status within the bureaucracy.

The civil service bureaucracy is ripe for reform. Today, the roles of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) are in open conflict.

We must go back to a professional civil service serving non-partisan interests. Pork barrel politics and politicisation of the civil service have had a corrosive impact on the administrative capacity of the state apparatus. We need to reorganise and restore the powers of the PSC.