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Unease as ministers' advisers run the show

Sunday March 17 2019

Cabinet Secretaries

Public Service Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia. She said advisers are personal staff of Cabinet Secretaries with specialised skills employed on PSC contract during the tenure of the Cabinet Secretary. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Simmering disquiet in the civil service over the high number of advisers in ministries mostly plucked from the corporate world is threatening to paralyse some State departments as senior career civil servants engage a slow gear to vent their disaffection.

The officers, brought in by the Cabinet Secretaries, have had their job groups fast-tracked to the dismay of many who have been waiting for promotions.

While it is not a new phenomenon, the sheer number and the amount of influence they wield leaves a lot to be desired.

Investigations by the Sunday Nation show that each of the ministers has an average of five aides who have unfettered access to them, with majority literally running the ministries.

Conservative estimates, going by the number of ministers, puts the number at 100.



Just last week, an influential minister added two more advisers. He has written to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to give them contracts with super perks. He now has six of them each with an office.

We could not establish the number of aides a Cabinet Secretary is allowed as PSC chairman Stephen Kirogo deferred our inquiries up to later this week.

So influential have they become that even principal secretaries have to in many cases get clearance from them to meet ministers, lengthening an already existing red tape in government.

Some have equally been accused of pushing for business with government, and since the assumption is that they are acting on behalf of the bosses, they almost always find their way around, manipulating tender awards at will.

“Sometimes you can have something to share with the Cabinet Secretary in confidence, but the advisers who may not even appreciate the functioning of government are not willing even to step aside, either out of insecurity or curiosity. They are controlling the ministers and there isn’t much you can do about it,” one insider said.


Most of them have created a ring around ministers and in some instances even issuing directives to technocrats.

Another one said the advisers have alienated the ministers from reality and fight anyone who they think is out to offer alternative ‘realities’.

“Go find out, but I can tell you of many cases of transfers effected just because an adviser felt that a departmental head was offering some competition to their job. It is terrible,” she said.

Mr Jerry olé Kina, the first deputy secretary-general of the Union of Civil Servants, says the trend is worrying and they are evaluating the options they have to stop it.

“Why can’t the Cabinet Secretaries pick their advisers from the public service? What’s happening now is morale killer. It is disastrous having some young, clueless person, who just because of proximity to the minister, giving orders to someone who has been in the service for 25 years. Some of these young men and women have little regard for the old hands. They think you are so stupid to have stagnated there for all the years,” Mr Ole Kina said.

The unionist said the practice gained currency in 2013 after the Jubilee administration came to power.


He expressed hope that plans to have the Cabinet approve a document on Implementation of Succession Management (ISM) before it held key to addressing the glaring disparities in the service.

Most of them being in managerial positions, the affected officers hope that the union would vigorously take up the matter on their behalf to get better perks and more dignified treatment from the consultants.

On Saturday Public Service Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia said that ISM would be ready this week.

Many senior vacant positions have not been filed in a long period of time after cases of retirement or employees leaving through natural attritions. The scheme is expected to cure this.

Prof Kobia admitted that her colleagues had retinue of aides who are not from the civil service, but defended them from accusations of interference in the day-to-day running of the government departments.

“Advisers are personal staff of Cabinet Secretaries with specialised skills employed on PSC contract during the tenure of the Cabinet Secretary. They have no role with the line managers in the state departments. Cabinet Secretaries are free to pick whoever has the competence both from serving civil servants and outsiders,” she said.


Her remarks imply that those who came along with former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa are now jobless.

When she resigned from Devolution Ministry in 2015 at the height of NYS scandal, the current Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru left many of such consultants orphaned.

But it was a sigh of relief for the other civil servants at the 10th floor of Harambee House who had claimed Ms Waiguru hired individuals from the private sector with limited hands-on experience and offered them attractive packages, denying them the chance of moving up the job groups.

Publicity firm Transcend Media, associated with one time comedian-cum politician John ‘KJ’ Kiarie, now Dagoretti South MP, and political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi’s Consulting House are some of the consultants who had been working with the minister.


During the nascent stages of the coalition government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, State House Comptroller Matere Keriri stopped the promotion of an aide to job group P, a cadre with very few experienced officers who have grown through the ranks for an average of 15 to 20 years.

Some independent observers say that the 2010 Constitution blurred the lines between politics and the civil service.

They say that, increasingly, political appointees are finding their way into government at the expense of diligent career civil servants.

In the olden days, and still to a very a large extent, more than 60 percent of the service have come from the former provincial administration.

“They understood the pluralities of the country, especially so as a cauldron of cultural mix.