Tom Mshindi: PM is a great manager, but where is the team?

Both the subject and thrust of colleague Macharia Gaitho’s commentary in the Nation on Tuesday made it second most popular according to the Internet edition reader’s aggregator.

This is hardly surprising as Mr Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister for four months now, remains the most compelling politician in the country.

Taking up a role without a clear purpose and deliverables, he has written his own job description and is using it to very good effect, both for himself and for country.

Here is a leader who has the country’s priorities right, and the courage to attempt to resolve thorny ones with the risk of upsetting entrenched interests.

There is one danger though – he needs to carry the rest of the team with him.

There is as much applause as there is cynicism about the eventual success of his approach if the rest of the team is not in the game.

Since the coalition government started work, the highlights of its existence has been former Finance minister Amos Kimunya’s very public slide into ignominy, Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’ and his peculiar handling of the work permits issue – he almost went Kimunya’s way but will live to issue more permits – and Education minister Sam Ongeri’s less than wholesome handling of the fiery unrest in schools.

Worth mention also is the Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi’s attempt to clean up the mess left by his counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta at the Local Government ministry where the latter, in a bout of unusual political generosity, nominated more councillors than the law allows him to.

One notes also that Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o at the Health ministry and Mrs Charity Ngilu at Water have been busy appointing parastatal chiefs in ways many see as high-handed and hence unacceptable.

Nairobi Metropolitan minister Mutula Kilonzo has been taking futuristic flights into the city of 2021, while many would rather he remained grounded in the present, talking about more pedestrian lanes, bypasses and bicycle lanes for all residents rather than for the extra comfort of politicians!

We highlight these because they represent what the public sees the ministers doing.

Ministers, unlike permanent secretaries, are judged by what they say and what they are seen to be doing.

They are political heads of Government departments and a lot of their time must be taken up with articulating these policies in ways understandable to the public, supervising the execution of public projects, and consulting with the public and other stakeholders.

I see three reasons why they are failing. One is sheer incompetence. There are ministers who do not deserve the responsibility. An example of one ministry that seems to have been seriously short-changed is Transport.

The second reason is that there are just too many portfolios, some not clearly defined, that even the public sometimes forgets there are 40 ministers!

Culture and National Heritage? No wonder Mr William ole Ntimama is generally absent.

Ministry of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands? A budget of less than Sh10 billion does not make it a terribly crucial docket, does it?

The third reason is that many of the ministers are waiting for cues from their party principals before they can move, creating a vacuum Mr Odinga is filling.

The experience of Mr Kimunya and the near-disaster involving Mr Kajwang’ has fostered significant hesitancy among the ministers. Many are uncertain whether the moves they make will draw applause or opprobrium.

It is this incompetence and uncertainty that Mr Odinga must tackle because his team must deliver for him to succeed.

He has signed a performance contract tying up the whole lot and each must play their role.

Rather than try the impossible feat of asserting himself everywhere and pronouncing himself on everything, he should be demanding results from ministers. They should be the ones jumping around.

As the team manager, he certainly needs to make ministers responsible and responsive.

For each of the issues in which he has publicly become involved – Mau Forest, the port, trade and investment – there are substantive ministers.

As a manager, he knows that greater success lies not in outshining other players, but in ensuring that they do their bit for the whole team to deliver.

Sometimes that means demoting some players, or sacking them altogether.

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