A few weeks ago, I was shooting the breeze with friends in one of those conversations we call in my language shortening the eveningâ€”an oxymoron, since they almost invariably go on to the small hours.
As this was around the Jubilee Governmentâ€™s one year anniversary, we pondered a little bit on how it might fare in the second year.
The one thing on which there was unanimity was that the Jubilee Government could be relied upon to continue blundering. As one usually prescient political observer put it, if there is a banana skin on the other sidewalk, Jubilee will cross the road to skid on it.
As if on cue, we watch helplessly as the Government scales the walls of the cemetery to go waking up ghosts â€” I am talking about Anglo Leasing.
In another one of his now predictably intemperate op-eds, the presidentâ€™s speech writer attempted a satirical spin on the blundering, blaming everyone from corrupt civil servants to analogue citizens for frustrating Jubileeâ€™s gallant efforts to run a â€œclean government and sound financial managementâ€ (I keep telling you they are smoking something these people!).
Judging from the comments on the article on the web, it was a blunder.
As an economist, I much prefer to draw my conclusions from data. For this article, I did a two second opinion poll on the Jubilee Government. I googled â€œJubilee Government blundersâ€ and Jubilee Government achievements.â€ Results were as follows.
Blunders: 5.5 million hits. Achievements: 1.2 million.
It could of course be that the results for blunders are spiked by reactions to the speech writerâ€™s article. Not quite. A search for â€œEric Ngâ€™eno Jubilee Blundersâ€ yields 770,000 hits.
So even excluding the reactions to the article, the public association of Jubilee with blunder is at least three times as likely as association with achievement.
So what is ailing Jubilee? Three things. Institutional change, paradigm paralysis and leadership.
Institutional change. Jubilee seems totally befuddled by the challenge of institutional change brought about by the new Constitution.
Much of the public focus has been on devolution. This is part of it, but not the biggest challenge. For the national government, the change from a parliamentary to presidential system is the bigger challenge.
Take the complete separation of executive and parliament. In the old system, every ministry had at least one and typically two assistant ministers.
With thirty ministries, and more than forty in the last one, this meant that the president had a team of at least 80. This has now been reduced to 20. This requires a very radical re-configuration of both the functions of the executive and how it works.
Jubilee does not seem to have recognized this, and continues to try and work like in the old system. So the Cabinet Secretaries find themselves running all over the place, permanently overworked, not achieving very much, but they canâ€™t seem to figure out why. Itâ€™s rather like watching a beginner swimâ€”furious violent motion, water all over the place, very little movement.
But perhaps the more poignant study is the tension between the two offices of Secretary to the Cabinet and the Presidentâ€™s Chief of Staff.
The Secretary to the Cabinet position is established by the Constitution. It is the lesser half the job of the previous position of Head of the Civil Service and Secretary to the Cabinet.
The Chief of Staff is not in the Constitution but it is a common position in presidential systems of Government. It is more or less an elevated position of the Comptroller of State House.
The problem here is not with the positions per se but one of the President bungling the transition. The first mistake was to appoint the two senior most bureaucrats in the previous system to the two positions.
In a presidential system, both positions are below the positions the two incumbents held previously. What we are now seeing is a re-creation of the powerful Chief Secretary position occupied by Ambassador Francis Muthaura and his predecessors.
But the Constitution abolished this position because it does not fit in presidential system with executive Cabinet Secretaries.
GAP BETWEEN PRESIDENT AND SECURITY
It would not have taken much work to devise a State House staff structure for a presidential system. A good place to begin would be to google â€œWhite House Organizational Chart.â€
There, you find that the Presidentâ€™s Chief of Staff has two dockets under him, a Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. The functions under the deputy for policy are similar to those for the Secretary to the Cabinet while those of the deputy for operations are similar to those of the Comptroller of State House.
The way I would have gone about it is to add Chief of Staff portfolio to the Secretary to the Cabinet position and then create under it â€œDeputy Chief for Cabinet Affairs and Policyâ€, and â€œDeputy Chief for Administration and Comptroller of State House.â€
The President has gone on to add security docket to his chief of staff. We now find ourselves with a clueless innkeeper and overworked twice retired bean counter as our security policy chiefs. Terrorists, muggers and alcohol poisoners beware.
It is fairly obvious that there is a big gap somewhere between the President and the security agencies. How does the country whose system we have copied do it?
Most people will remember Condi Rice, George Bushâ€™s brilliant, elegant National Security Advisor. Hereâ€™s the Wikipedia entry for the US National Security Advisor:
â€œThe Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA), is a senior official in the Executive Office of the President who serves as the chief advisor, stationed in the White House, to the President of the United States on national security issues.
This person also participates in the meetings of the National Security Council. He or she is supported by the National Security Council staff that produces research, briefings, and intelligence for the APNSA to review and present either to the National Security Council or directly to the President.â€ Enough said.
Paradigm paralysis. For the last two decades at least our development policy has been led by the Washington Consensus, which reduced to its core, is the dictum that free markets equals growth equals development. Free markets tick. Growth tick. Development? This is what I call paradigm paralysis.
The Bretton Woods institutions who we have relied on to provide intellectual leadership to our development policies have yet to come up with another paradigm to replace it.
The problem is not that there are no viable development ideas Their problem is one of a paradigm that has them, and aid, in the driverâ€™s seat â€” for the radically inclined, a paradigm that perpetuates dependency.
For a while, they were onto infrastructure, but then the Chinese ran away with that show.
CVs SUBMITTED BY CRONIES
The Washington Consensus has been dealt a serious body blow by the global financial crisis. Finally, the penny has dropped. The rich also cry. But having never before thought for themselves, our leaders now wander the geopolitical wilderness looking for new foreign masters.
It is said that if you donâ€™t know where you are going, any road will get you there. So they roam. China, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Nigeria. The one place they donâ€™t look is inward, to their people.
Leadership. In his memoir From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, Lee Kwan Yew had this to say: After several years in government I realized that the more talented people I had as ministers, administrators and professionals, the more effective my policies were, and the better the results.â€
I was in a social place I frequent when both instalments of the Jubilee cabinet were unveiled. The most common reaction to the appointees was â€œwho is heâ€ or â€œwho is sheâ€, followed by, â€œreally? â€
These reactions of course do not mean that the people are not talented, but the fact that a broad cross section of the countryâ€™s top professionals and business leaders had not heard of three quarters of the cabinet is pretty unusual.
When we pick our national football team or Olympics athletics squad, you expect people who follow the sport to know most, if not all the team members.
I donâ€™t have any data but I would be surprised if there are many precedents where a president picked cabinet members from a bunch of CVs submitted by cronies.
Cabinet calibre people would not have to send CVs to be scrutinized. Their public credentials should speak for themselves.
There are two primary motivations why leaders choose weak teams. One is lack of confidence to lead people who are just as or more accomplished than he or she is. Such leaders choose people who cannot be threats to their position.
The other is leaders who value loyalty more than ability. Such leaders choose people who will know that they owe their position to the leader, not to their credentials. Take your pick.
Having made his bed thus, you would think that the President would be happily rolling on it. No. Having no substantive achievement to report in his inaugural State of the Nation address, he shoves out his hapless Cabinet to take the bullet for him.
And now with frustration rising, they throw tantrums, lashing out at anything and everyone, civil society, media, oppositionâ€”it is everyoneâ€™s fault but their own.
It is Charles Njonjo, that refreshingly forthright sage, who foretold many years ago, at another time like this, that when the leading sheep limps, the flock does not reach the pasture.
Thankfully, times have changed. Thanks to democratization, economic liberalization, devolution and our nascent constitutionalism, Jubilee is not Baba na Mama, and theUhuruto Error is not going to be around for 24 years.
David Ndii is Managing Director of Africa Economics email@example.com. This article appeared with a different title on Daily Nation