Tough reforms agenda awaits Treasury nominee

Mr. Henry Rotich, nominee Cabinet Secretary to the National Treasury. FILE
Mr. Henry Rotich, nominee Cabinet Secretary to the National Treasury. FILE 

If confirmed as the Treasury Cabinet Secretary, macroeconomics expert Henry Rotich will become the man history has given a chance to make the most significant changes in the management of Kenya's public finance.

Recognised nationally as a seasoned civil servant with solid credentials to spearhead reforms, Mr Rotich will face a daunting task dealing with the egos of his seniors and peers he will now supervise.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr Rotich is taking charge of government finances with deep knowledge of the issues having worked at the Treasury for many years.

That weakens even further the influence that senior and long-serving Treasury bureaucrats will have over him, putting him instead in a strong position to supervise them.

As the government’s money man-in-chief Mr Rotich will have to employ his management experience to command a workforce that includes people who have been senior to him.

The list of senior Treasury officials who will have reversed roles in their working relationship with Mr Rotich includes Mutua Kilaka, the Finance secretary and the effective chief accounting officer, and Dr Geoffrey Mwau, the Economic secretary.

Dr Mwau, who has worked at the Treasury with the support of the World Bank, is arguably the most transparent Treasury executive, having positioned himself as an outsider without bureaucratic hang-ups.

Mr Nyamunga served as Mr Rotich’s immediate boss in the Economic Affairs department and will now report to him.

Other senior Treasury mandarins who sat above Mr Rotich are Mr Ngugi, Director of Budget, and Dr Thugge, an International Monetary Fund-backed adviser on fiscal decentralisation. Dr Thugge is in the list of those who have applied for the position of principal secretary.

Some analysts said that as long as Mr Rotich has the experience and skills he needs to command the respect of the people he has been working with, he should get a soft landing on the job.

High level competence

“It does not matter that much that he has been appointed ahead of his seniors as long as they recognise that the appointment is backed by high level competence and experience,” said Paulino Mutegi, a long-serving director and tax expert at audit firm Ernst & Young and now with Tax Trail Consultants.

As a macroeconomist Mr Rotich has been one of the few specialists in his field a position that earned him respected at the Treasury.

Budget expert John Mutua of the Institute of Economic Affairs said Mr Rotich has the experience that is needed to run the Treasury but added he will become a closely watched man due to the centrality of the National Treasury in government.

“If he is appointed he will be is expected deliver against massive public finance challenges that abound,” said Mr Mutua who was in the team that formulated the public financial management strategy – a road map to reforming the way the national and county finances are managed.

Mr Rotich also holds the distinction of having been one of the youngest people holding the position of deputy directorship at the Treasury since 2006.

President Kenyatta’s nominee has previously worked with the Central Bank of Kenya and the International Monetary Fund and is no ordinary civil servant having been the more accessible personality to the media at the Treasury. 

A day after he was introduced to the public as the Cabinet nominee for Treasury, Mr Rotich clearly showed that he was seized of the task ahead.
He acknowledged that his first major task will be to handle the Budget to enable the government meet the legal requirement of tabling the revenue and expenditure estimates to Parliament before the end of the month.

“Our priority is to deliver on the Budget as it has to be presented within a specified time. I don’t know when I will appear before the Parliamentary Committee as I am yet to be invited to appear,” Mr Rotich said on Wednesday.

County governments

If confirmed Mr Rotich will be charged with the task of implementing the Public Finance Management (PFM) Act as it relates to the national and county governments.

If approved by Parliament, Mr Rotich will find himself at the helm of an organisation that is traditionally known to be conservative and will be expected to reshape it into an agency that is in line with the openness and transparency that the constitution demands.

In the past, Treasury mandarins have merely taken comfort Budgeting for the expenditure and have it passed but time has when they must share that role with Parliament.

“Mr Rotich will be expected to oversee reforms in Budgeting. Programme Based Budgeting (PBB) is one area we expect him to bring into life as it involves showing the outcomes of the allocations.