The man in charge of Kenya’s money has turned down the offer to live in an expansive home in Nairobi’s Muthaiga and ride in a motorcade.
Dr Patrick Ngugi Njoroge, who took over as Central Bank of Kenya governor last week, will instead be housed in communal accommodation in Nairobi’s Loresho estate with his fellow members of Opus Dei (Latin for "work of God"), an institution of the Catholic church.
The institution teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. Most of its members are lay people, with secular priests under a bishop.
Dr Njoroge, who is turning out to be a man of exemplary modesty, has also turned down an office-issued, high-end smartphone, a bevy of security guards and three cars.
Central Bank governors have at their disposal a Range Rover, a Mercedes-Benz and a Volkswagen Passat.
When he was being vetted by MPs before his appointment by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Dr Njoroge was asked why he does not own property in Kenya and is still single at 54 yet his monthly salary at the International Monetary Fund was Sh3 million a month.
A MATTER OF CHOICE
“Yes I don’t have a single asset here in Kenya and this is where I am at this point and it doesn’t mean that this how it will be forever. I subscribe to being very deliberate about that. This is my economic model and may be years after retirement, I would want to invest in other things. That should not mean I have any financial inabilities. It comes with the profession,” the country’s ninth Central Bank governor said.
He told the MPs that his lifestyle was a matter of choice and there was nothing unusual about it.
MPs approved his nomination, paving the way for his appointment, but not before making inappropriate offers to get him a wife.
In a country where appointment to public office is associated with opulence, demand for higher pay and motorcades, Dr Njoroge’s decision to pass up a chance to live in a house on two acres located in the city’s most exclusive suburb is a rare one.
Had he taken up the offer, some of his neighbours would have been former President Mwai Kibaki, the US ambassador, British high commissioner and former Attorney General Charles Njonjo.
The home has lawns and beautiful mature gardens, ideal for parties and official receptions and functions.
Former governor Philip Ndegwa lived there. But subsequent governors Eric Kotut, Nahason Nyaga and Andrew Mullei did not move in. Still, the premises were fully maintained by the Central Bank, even though the only people living there were domestic staff and gardeners.
The position of governor also comes with other trappings of power. The previous governor, Prof Njoroge Ndung’u, had at his disposal a Mercedes-Benz, a Range Rover, a Volkswagen Passat, a chase car, two armed guards and a driver.
But self-effacement comes as naturally to the new governor as ostentation comes to the typical public official in Kenya.
“Totally devoid of ego and instinctively averse to self-advertisement” is how a senior Treasury official and long-serving central banker described him.
His style brings to public service a rare quality of humility and an aversion to the trappings of power and opulence. In Kenya, the practice is that when you are appointed to high office, you demand big fuel-guzzling cars and expensive Turkish carpets.
But it is not just on matters of cars and homes that the governor has shown he has a mind of his own.
'EXCESSIVE' EXTERNAL BORROWING
During vetting Dr Njoroge demonstrated an independent mind, taking a different position to what MPs were pushing and also going against the government position on some issues.
He was, for example, forthright that he considers Kenya’s external borrowing excessive, saying the country must be careful in considering more debt and where the money was going.
This contradicted the National Treasury position, which is that the country’s borrowing is healthy and within the limits.
He also dismissed proposals by MPs to form a government bank to provide cheaper loans and bring interest rates down or simply introduce legislation to control bank lending rates.
“I think it would be a big mistake to even think that we can control interest rates through legislation. It will not work. That is why we moved from price control. Commercial banks just need to get confident to move ahead with market-based solutions that are sensitive for their businesses like control on inflation. This is something we have done in other countries by assuring the banks that the economy is under control, we will come up with a plan that is acceptable to all,” said Dr Njoroge.