Make haste on tasks to improve our lives

Having taken their oaths of office yesterday, the 42 ministers and 50 assistant ministers in the Grand Coalition Government are now legally empowered — and, more importantly, bound — to execute their duties and functions.

They have entered a life of servitude to the Republic whose trappings of power, secrecy and luxury have led many a minister to mistake their appointments for feudal titles.

Therefore, as those in the new Cabinet team prepare for their triumphant ‘homecoming’ celebrations, we remind them that the respect and support of the public does not come from having a ministerial pennant fluttering on a shiny blue limousine. It is earned, not on the lawns of State House, but in the dedicated tackling of Government business and the creative use of available resources and ideas to change wananchi’s lives.

Many of the new ministers’ first act has been to announce ‘new’ policy decisions or promised during the election campaigns (cheaper fertiliser, free water in slums, free education in polytechnics). The emphasis seems to be on cultivating goodwill through populist giveaways, which is not bad. Giving the impression of new brooms sweeping cleaner is important to rallying public support behind a Government whose size has sparked near-universal outrage.

However, perception management should quickly take a back seat to pragmatic decision-making. Ministers will do well to remember that some of the most appreciated and useful reforms during President Kibaki’s first term — from initiatives intended to recover unpaid taxes to new rules in the public transport sector — were quite unpopular when first floated. Not all policy decisions can be of the ‘free education’ variety. Finding smart ways of solving people’s problems and efficient ways of maintaining programmes that work, while protecting them from graft, is the key challenge.

The hardest tasks fall to Mr Raila Odinga, who has to brave uncharted waters in his office and win the co-operation of a large team of ministers, Mr George Saitoti, whose security docket is certain to be busy with militia disarmament, Mr Amos Kimunya, who must find ways to pay for Government’s ambitious plans even as the economy slows down, Mr James Orengo, who will carry the ball on the tricky question of land reform, Ms Martha Karua, tasked with national cohesion on top of the contentious constitutional affairs, and Mr William Ruto, heading the agriculture ministry at a time of global and local food crises. Education, health and infrastructure ministries also have a tough row to hoe in the coming years.

To all we say, there’s not a minute to waste; get cracking.

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