Private sector CEOs not the answer to public service woes

Wednesday December 6 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta during a briefing meeting on the status of major infrastructure projects in the energy sector at Harambee House. Present are CS for Energy and Petroleum Charles Keter, Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service Mr. Joseph Kinyua, PS for Energy Eng. Joseph Njoroge and PS National Treasury Dr. Kamau Thugge. PHOTO | PSCU 

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Food for thought and suggestions for President Uhuru Kenyatta, as he prepares to tackle the challenges of rebuilding an efficient administration.

First, start by appointing a substantive holder to the constitutional office of cabinet secretary.

The civil service bureaucracy badly needs a high profile change champion cracking the whip from the top, and tasked with the responsibility of breaking fiefdoms and restoring clear lines of command.

One of the problems today is that the civil service bureaucracy is overpopulated by the so-called private sector technocrats.

And, affected most by the influx into the bureaucracy by individuals arbitrarily parachuted into the public service to occupy high profile positions is the cadre known as principal secretary.


We have principal secretaries coming out of our ears. The Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development has a total of five. Which begs the question: What was the point of reducing the number of cabinet secretaries only to let the number of principal secretaries proliferate?

When you cram the state apparatus with too many people from the private sector who are yet to imbibe what business schools call espirit de corp, it is a perfect environment for bureaucratic lethargy.

Who said that a CEO from the private sector must necessarily possess the skills to run a large ministry? And, where did the practice of allowing cabinet and principal secretaries to hire their own advisers from the private sector come from?

Having watched and interacted with top civil servants for a long time, including the famous Dream Team of Dr Richard Leakey, I came to the conclusion that the notion that talent head-hunted from the private sector will necessarily perform better than career civil servants is a big myth.


Which brings me to my second point. The President should revive the National Economic and Social Council (Nesc) by allowing it to assume a higher profile in the policy-making space. Under President Mwai Kibaki, membership was broadened to include policy makers from foreign countries, including the United Kingdom, Malaysia, South Korea, and Singapore.

Indeed, it was the Nesc that developed the 30-year economic blueprint — Vision 2030, and identified the six priority sectors, and flagship projects. Under President Kenyatta, this critical source of advice to the government was put in deep freeze, its secretariat sidelined and pushed to a small office in the Co-operative Bank building in downtown Nairobi.

My third proposal for the President. Where are we right now, in so far as the fight against corruption is concerned? The priority right now for the President should be how to clean up the mess in the government’s accounting system. The time has come for him to lead and put his personal clout behind the transition from what accountants call a “cash-based accounting” system to “accrual-based accounting”.


If we can get the government to implement a properly functioning accrual-based accounting system running on a robust and well-designed integrated financial system, what ICT wonks call and Enterprise Resource Planning System, we will have made it difficult for the ilk of Josephine Kabura of the NYS scam to play their games. 

Transition to accrual-based accounting, plus the complete ejection of the existing Ifmis is what will stop the perennial mad rugby-style scram, whereby unscrupulous people rush to empty the vaults of the Exchequer before the end of each financial year, as we witnessed during the Sh5 billion Afya House scandal.

Clearly, cash-based accounting is what has been feeding corruption. We are yet to embrace what accountants call ‘double-entry book-keeping’. I read somewhere that double-entry book-keeping was discovered by some Italian monk who was serving the merchants of Venice in the 12th century.


Corruption is rampant because government accounts are totally broken. It is inspiring that the National Treasury the other day put up an advert inviting a consultancy firm to advise and design the change to accrual-based accounting.

The National Treasury lamented that the system it has is dysfunctional to the extent that it is impossible to do something as rudimentary as keeping an assets register. Neither is it possible to perform regular financial reporting nor produce regular financial statements.

The mafia living off the cash-based system and siphoning off billions through the Ifmis are bound to resist fiercely. The political will for the transition to accrual-based accounting will have to come from the very top.