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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Star-studded contest for cabinet posts

Posted Saturday, August 14 2010 at 16:44

The next president-elect of the Republic will not have much time to sit down to savour his victory. There will be a slew of nominations to make, chief among them being those who will be cabinet secretaries to take the place of the current ministers.

Because a nominee for a secretary’s position will not be an MP, the president-elect will turn his attention to men and women with proven professional, technocratic and business experience.

It is not that these people are not available; it is that the President will not want the embarrassment of having his nominee rejected by Parliament. For the nominee, such rejection would be a painful career limiting or altogether ending development.

I think the first place for the president-elect to look will be the technocratic field and here permanent secretaries – past and present – business leaders or captains of industry will hold pole position in the race for nominations and eventual appointments.

The president-elect will be interested in the track records as regards performance as helmsmen and also in their relationships with people at their places of work and beyond.

The president-elect will be particularly interested in such words and phrases as scandal, skeleton in the closet, frugal, prudent, turn-around artist, trading results, aloof and arrogant or people person, safe pair of hands, trustworthy and inexperience and experience.

Names such as Dr Bitange Ndemo (PS, Information and Communication), Mr Thuita Mwangi (PS, Foreign Affairs), Mr David Nalo (PS, East African Community), among others, will pop up in the president-elect’s thoughts and dreams and confine him -- or force him -- back to his desk and phone to run a check on each one of them.

Yes, now you realise the importance and import of performance contracting. Yes, you realise that the term career civil servant, so beloved of journalists, will become increasingly important as will the service itself.

No sooner will he have finished one check than fresh names will flash across the screen of the president-elect’s mind’s eye – Dr Evans Kidero (Chief Executive Officer, Mumias Sugar Company), Titus Naikuni, Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Airways), Vimal Shah, Chief Executive Officer Bidco Industries and Chairman, Kenya Association of Manufacturers) ...

Yes, now you realise that competition for cabinet positions should be star-studded, pitting the country’s most brilliant brains and proven performers or the best and brightest against each other.

But the president-elect will not be doing the thinking and searching, choosing and discarding, raising question marks and cautionary flags against names coming to his mind alone.

There will be armies of relatives and advisers who will all want to think and pick and choose nominees for him.

The president-elect will be spoilt for choice but checked by the constitutional reality that he can only have a cabinet that consists of himself, the deputy president, attorney-general and not fewer than 14 and not more than 22 cabinet secretaries.

But the president-elect will also have to grapple with the fact that these constitutional provisions do not check the hunger and clamour by communities, special interests and relatives and financiers for a place in the cabinet.

The time when the President packed the cabinet with cronies, puppets in order for he and them to take the pork home is no more. Politicians have to decide whether to take the plunge and become law-makers or lobby to be nominated for cabinet secretary positions.

And look at this: “A member of the National Assembly, supported by at least one-quarter of all members of the Assembly, may propose a motion requiring the President to dismiss a Cabinet Secretary” for gross violation of the constitution or any other law, a criminal offence or gross misconduct.

The searchlight of public scrutiny trained on a cabinet secretary just became brighter and more intense!

But then that’s jumping the gun. After the president-elect nominates, it will be the turn of Parliament to chew the nominees and spit them out.

I say that because, going by the performance of current MPs in the varied committees, most are rather like lynch mobs looking for the slightest opportunity to terrorise and embarrass those unfortunate enough to appear before them.

Denied the opportunity to be cabinet secretaries themselves, MPs will take nominees through the wringer. They will look to settle scores, find faults and scandals on a nominee.

Don’t rule out MPs being lobbied, wined and dined. Therefore, the nominees will realise that quite apart from their lengthy CVs, they will need to know and be known by a lot of people of influence and affluence.

It is why when I grow up I want to be a governor because when I grown up again I want to be President. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were governors. Watch governors in 2022!

The writer is a media consultant

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