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Advantages of professional bureaucracy

Sunday December 15 2019

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With the recent publication of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, many commentators have focused on questions of the form of government.

I have read many arguments for and against a parliamentary, a semi-parliamentary and a presidential system.

Some people prefer direct representation while others want proportional representation at the county level.


These debates are interesting and have an impact on our lives. But sometimes I feel that their place is in an advanced course of political theory rather than in the papers.

There are dramatic provisions in the BBI report which do not get as much coverage. Take as example the proposed reform of the principal secretaries.
According to the report, these important officials at the helm of every ministry, right under the Cabinet Secretaries, are to be exempt from parliamentary approval (as it is still needed for each CS).


This is an important step towards smoothly and professionally run ministries.

This move assures that our bureaucratic institutions become meritocratic and technocratic palaces, instead of the wild, unjust and inefficient fields of nepotism that an over-politicisation too often entails.

There is no reason why the Principal Secretary of any given ministry should not be the best, most experienced and most driven worker of that ministry.

Technocrats are less prone to the enticing vices of graft and more easily to control, as they are not entangled in the cobwebs of powerful political allies.

This de-politicisation of the public service also serves another purpose.

Tribalism still plays a big role in our daily political culture. Some might say that the deeper goal of the BBI, one which cannot be just plainly spelt out on paper, is to weaken the tribalistic sentiments in Kenya. From this perspective, too, the decision to put technocrats to lead the different ministries is a crucial one.

These officials can be chosen on transparent and equal grounds, and everyone can follow the process and convince themselves that only professional qualifications are taken into consideration.

Instead of just appointing Principal Secretaries which will return the favour to the tribe or coalition of tribes dominating the government, Kenya’s best and brightest will receive the power to execute the government policies.

The BBI brings Kenya one step closer to the ideal bureaucracy as defined by the German sociologist Max Weber.

He saw this kind of organisation of the public service as necessary in order to ensure an effective and structured workflow which can, in turn, be of used for the public good.

Established rules and procedures are necessary for high consistency and consistent execution of all tasks; and most importantly – transparency. These also make it easier to maintain control and make necessary adjustments to further improve the way our ministries are running.

The claims BBI offers superficial solutions to problems of governance is simply incorrect. Instead of these simple fixes, the report proposes deep-reaching changes which have the potential to change the underlying problem holding Kenya back.

Every aspect of the report should be analysed looking for these deep fixes; we need to get to the very roots of our problems. All too often, these can be reduced to nepotism, tribalism and corruption – and these are all interconnected.
To get rid of interconnected problems, we need a holistic response. That’s why the report is so thick, and touches on every aspect of our society and self-organisation as a people. Even though it takes some time which is hard to find in our daily busy lives, it is crucial that every citizen reads it from beginning to the end.


To read and familiarise yourself with this document is also the only remedy against all the trolls and their fake-news all over the internet.

Especially if each one of us will have the right and the privilege to vote on the conclusions of the BBI report in a referendum, we need to be prepared and knowledgeable about all of its aspects.
This is our best chance at having a direct say in improving the future of our country.

We cannot allow it to be dragged down any further by nepotism, tribalism and corruption.
Mr Kwinga is a political scientist. [email protected]