I was pleasantly surprised to see the name of former Barclays Bank chief executive officer Adan Mohammed in the list of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Cabinet nominees.
Having run the largest commercial bank in Kenya (by assets), he surely has what it takes to run a ministry so critical to reviving the country’s long-term economic fortunes as the Cabinet Secretary for industrialisation.
Indeed, industrialisation is the key economic pillar of Vision 2030. But the reason I highlight his nomination to the key policy-making position is different altogether.
That he has ended up in the list is an intriguing story of how of a new regime can suddenly alter the fortunes of individuals.
Two years ago, a clique within President Kibaki’s inner circle discontinued Mr Mohammed’s tenure as chair of the Juja-based Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology in a very abrupt and embarrassing manner.
The background to the story is as follows: For some time, the Harambee House-based powermen put relentless pressure on Mr Mohammed to reappoint a top official at the university whose term of office had expired, having attained the mandatory retirement age.
The powermen wanted their man on the job at all costs: no advertising and no interviewing of other interested candidates.
But Mr Mohammed stood his ground, insisting that due process had to be followed. He went ahead and put out an advert inviting other interested candidates. Interviews were scheduled.
One Thursday afternoon, a special committee of the board chaired by Mr Mohammed convened to interview the well-connected chap.
As he and fellow interviewers started shooting questions at the man, he reached out to his breast pocket and unleashed a piece of paper which he instantly tabled before the interviewing panel.
It was a copy of a government special Gazette notice announcing that the President had appointed a new council to replace Mohammed and his team.
“You have no powers to interview me”, the man reportedly told Mr Mohammed and his team.
It was the first time Mr Mohammed and the council members were seeing that Gazette notice. Apparently, its contents were only known to the man and his godfathers.
That is how Mr Mohammed’s tenure as chair of the JKUAT council ended.
With the advent of Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration, the balance of power has shifted.
The irony is that the former powerful operative who orchestrated the sacking of Mr Mohammed and his team, now sits as chairman of a parastatal under the Ministry of Industrialisation. The boot is on the other foot.
I want to appeal to Mr Mohammed and the other top corporate executives who have been nominated to the new Cabinet to accept taking big pay-cuts. The taxpayer cannot afford to pay the millions of shillings they have been earning in the private sector.
Treat your nomination as a calling to national duty – an opportunity to make a difference to the lives of ordinary citizens of this country.
If you accept a pay-cut, you will have sent a powerful message: that we still have people of calibre and knowledge in the private sector who are prepared to take national assignments out of patriotism.
Patriotism may be an intangible thing, but it is a critical national asset.
This is not the first time we are experimenting with the idea of bringing in technocrats into the public service. There was the “Dream Team” experiment by former President Moi in 2000 that parachuted a small group of technocrats into public service and made them Permanent Secretaries in key ministries.
The problem was that these technocrats were brought into public service at a very high cost to the taxpayer.
Indeed, the salaries had to be underwritten by grants and loans from international financial institutions and bilateral donors. What we need are technocrats driven by patriotism.
When you create enclaves of highly-paid public servants, you end up fomenting resentment and suspicion across the public service.