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Uhuru Kenyatta mulls new Treasury secretary after Henry Rotich’s fall

Wednesday July 24 2019

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto during a Cabinet meeting at State House, Nairobi, on March 27, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | PSCU 

PAUL WAFULA
By PAUL WAFULA
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President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to quickly pick Treasury replacements — whether in an acting capacity or substantively — by end of the week, and it is a tough call. There is expectation that a mini-Cabinet reshuffle is the most suitable path for taking advantage of the vacancies created by the arrest and arraignment of Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and his Principal Secretary, Dr Kamau Thugge.

ADDITIONAL DUTIES

Treasury is a senior and complex docket which requires expertise in financial matters and, possibly, experience in government. The candidate selected must be able to take over the financial sector, lead it effectively, and be able to credibly persuade the public that expenditure will strictly adhere to value for money in a Treasury scarred by allegations of high-level corruption.

The person must also command the respect of multilateral partners, especially the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and have the expertise and connections to restructure the national debt, which is a major source of worry for the public and government alike.

Also coming into play, though never acknowledged, is factional politics within Jubilee, and it will be interesting to see whether the President will seek to balance between his own side of the coalition and that of Deputy President William Ruto.

Within the Cabinet, only East Africa Co-operation Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed and his Transport and Infrastructure colleague James Macharia have a banking background. None of the government sources that the Nation spoke to was privy to the President’s thinking, but the chances of the two ministers getting the acting role were not rated highly.

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Mr Mohamed is believed to gravitate towards the Deputy President’s orbit while Mr Macharia has a huge portfolio and is somewhat unlikely to be considered for additional duties.

Some of the names being bandied around include that of Ms Ruth Kagia, the Deputy Chief of Staff (Policy and Strategy) in the Presidency, whose experience at the World Bank is touted as her main qualification. Ms Kagia spent 20 years at the World Bank, rising to the bank’s Director of Education position between 2002 and 2008. She later became the Country Director for Southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho as well as Mauritius and Madagascar).

Others yet think that the President might reach out for a trusted and safe pair of hands in the shape of Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua, a career financial manager who served at Treasury and Central Bank for many years.

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, former Cabinet secretary and currently the secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, is seen as having a future in Jubilee, but it is not clear whether the Finance portfolio would be entrusted to him, or whether he would be brought in as a relief for another CS who then gets promoted to Treasury.

CRIMINAL CHARGES

Whatever the decision, the President has so far demonstrated an aversion for confrontation and whatever changes he makes might be those that he and Mr Ruto can live with, at least for the moment.

Following a court order Tuesday, Mr Rotich and Mr Thugge cannot step into Treasury unless in the company of an investigating officer, which leaves them with no option but to step aside as they can no longer comfortably conduct government business.

In the absence of a Treasury CS, the Foreign Affairs counterpart, in this case Ms Monica Juma, acts as the alternative signatory. Ms Juma is, therefore, expected to assume the signatory role in the absence of Mr Rotich.

By the time of going to press last evening, Ms Juma had not responded to our inquiries on whether she had taken over the signing mandate. Other likely candidates are Ms Esther Koimett, the current Transport PS, who was until recently at the National Treasury as the Investment Secretary.

The arrests Monday of senior Treasury officials thrust the country into international limelight and affected the Kenyan shilling and yields from the Eurobond. Besides controlling expenditure, Treasury co-ordinates the raising of debt and implementation of the national budget. 

Sources told the Nation that President Kenyatta has been considering various options to head Treasury since February this year, when the story of the dams scandal that led to their arrest first broke, but he allowed them to hold on until they read the national budget so as not to disrupt the expenditure plan.

There was confusion at the Treasury yesterday, with many insiders not knowing if their boss has resigned or he was waiting to be sent home. The law requires that State officers who take plea on criminal charges must resign.

ACCEPTRESIGNATION

President Kenyatta promised in his last State of the Nation address that he would let go of any government officials charged with corruption. If he sticks to this promise, then he will this week be accepting the resignation of both Mr Rotich and Mr Thugge, alongside over two dozen others who were charged on Tuesday.

The principal secretary position has most of the time been given to an insider, and it is not clear yet who will inherit the position, whose role is the main accounting officer. As things stand now, the senior-most official at the Treasury is Mr Nelson Gaichuhie, the current Chief Administrative Secretary.

Before this, Mr Gaichuhie served as a Member of Parliament for Subukia from 2007 to 2017. In Parliament, he was the vice-chairman of the Finance Planning and Trade committee and a member of the Budget and Appropriations and Appointments committees.

The other senior official is Dr Geoffrey Mwau, who is the senior adviser to the Treasury CS. Dr Mwau graduated from McGill University in Canada with a PhD in economics in 1994 and worked as a senior adviser to the executive director representing Kenya and 21 other African countries at the executive board of World Bank.

Other top officials are Mr Bernard Ndung’u, the director of General Accounting Services and Quality Assurance; Dr Haron Sirma, currently the director-general of the Public Debt Management Office, Mr Albert Mwenda, the acting director-general of Budget, Fiscal and Economic Affairs; Mr Stanley Kamau, the acting director-general of Public Investments and Portfolio Management, and Mr Francis Musyimi, the principal administrative secretary.