On the floor of Parliament one Wednesday in 2016, politician Johnson Sakaja was an optimistic man because of a bill he believed would assist the jobless gain experience and get jobs.
Then a nominated MP, Mr Sakaja — who is now the Nairobi Senator — was debating the National Employment Authority bill that day. On discussion were reservations from President Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr Sakaja backed them.
“I am the sponsor of the bill but now, it is the property of Parliament. I fully agree with the reservations of the President,” said Mr Sakaja.
The reservations were about disbanding the National Employment Bureau in favour of the National Youth Employment Authority that Mr Sakaja had proposed.
The Jubilee Party lawmaker said it was an oversight on his part when he was drafting the bill that he forgot to mention the employment agency existing then.
As captured in the Parliamentary Hansard of February 24, 2016, Mr Sakaja said: “We needed to provide for those who are already working within a similar agency within government to transition to the new agency, as well as the new authority being able to own the assets and liabilities. Speakers have agreed with the reservations.”
He went on: “The bill is not just about transforming the Employment Bureau to the Employment Authority, but it is actually creating an authority that will streamline the job market for young people, including creating job centres in every county so that if any national or county public entity is hiring people, they can hire through the Authority.”
He noted that the bill would see the formation of an online database that would provide “mandatory internships in public institutions for our young people in universities and colleges”.
While drafting the bill, Mr Sakaja said it was towards meeting a requirement on Kenyan youth in the 2010 Constitution.
Article 55 (c) of the Constitution says: “The State shall take measures, including affirmative action programmes, to ensure that the youth access employment.”
The bill was assented into law on April 1, 2016, with its commencement date being 20 days later. And so, three years ago, the National Employment Authority was born, to be supervised by the Labour ministry.
In writing, the Act is a beacon of hope to many unemployed Kenyans as it promises ease in securing internships among other changes. Below are four paragraphs picked randomly from the act:
“The Authority shall, during or after successful completion of a person’s undergraduate, diploma or certificate studies, make efforts to find paid internship for that person in a government institution or any other sector, as the person seeks employment individually or through the authority.”
“The State shall come up with incentives to reward any private institution that employs Kenyans within six months of completion of their certificate or undergraduate studies, and who do not possess more than five years’ work experience.”
“A State entity, public office or State office may request for data of qualified youth from the authority for purposes of considering them for employment.”
“Whenever a vacancy occurs, the appointing office shall give priority to the job seekers registered by the Authority who possess the qualifications or skills sought.”
In its provisions on who qualifies to be a chairperson — to be appointed by the Labour Cabinet Secretary — the act says that person needs to be a citizen of Kenya and should meet the integrity requirements of the Constitution.
“(The person should have) at least seven years’ experience in human resource management or its equivalent,” says the act.
While the act does not provide age limits for the ideal person to be chair, many Kenyans were enraged on Monday when former Othaya MP Mary Wambui was appointed to head the institution.
Among the roles vested on the authority is the circulation of any available vacancies “through appropriate means including use of social media, internet, and published materials” as the Act says.
It is also supposed to register persons seeking employment and to maintain the list, updating accordingly if any of the registered people gets a job.
A section of Kenyans believe the rigour required of the authority is a mismatch with the credentials of Ms Wambui, a controversial politician who was the Othaya MP between 2013 and 2017 and who is known for her many communication gaffes.
Among those who have criticised the appointment is nominated Jubilee senator Millicent Omanga, who expressed doubts on Ms Wambui’s capabilities.
Ms Wambui has in the past claimed to be a second wife of former President Mwai Kibaki and in the lead up to the 2017 General Election, she was an unapologetic defender or President Uhuru Kenyatta.
In one function held in October 2017, ahead of the repeat presidential poll, Ms Wambui was quoted saying Mr Kenyatta’s then opponent Raila Odinga was being supported by foreign countries to assume the presidency.
Controversy has long dogged Ms Wambui, one notable one being the scandal of the Armenian brothers who created waves during President Kibaki’s first term in office.
According to a report tabled in Parliament in 2007, Ms Wambui was among the people to be investigated regarding the controversial entry of Armenian nationals Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargasyan into the country and what their mission was.