By Wanjiku Thiga
Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i is once again on the spot for allegedly abusing the powers of his office to bully President Kenyatta’s political opponents.
The lead accuser this time is Deputy President William Ruto and his political allies. The DP anger was triggered by Dr Matiang’i alleged role in his botched trip to Uganda and the extradition of his controversial business acquaintance, the Turkish national! To the CS critics, power has gone into his head giving him the airs of arrogance and insolence.
The power Dr Matiang’i is accused of abusing comes with the territory. The Interior docket is the first among equals in the ministries’ pecking order. The Police, Prisons, Immigration, the National and Civil registration bureaus, the National Government Administration officers (provincial administration) and the National Transport and Safety Authority are among the over 30 agencies and departments under the Ministry.
By dint of his post, the Interior CS also sits in critical decision-making organs such as the National Security Council. Here, priorities of the country’s security environment and sensitive decisions are made. The onus of the ministry also necessitates of its occupant frequent interaction with the President. Proximity to power, like access to classified information, is an important enhancer of clout.
Dr. Matiang’i is therefore ‘guilty’ of cementing the Interior ministry role as the nerve centre of government operations. That he is a forceful character by nature who raises the profile of whichever office he holds adds to his ‘crimes.’ Besides the President, the CS has become the face of the government.
That is why to a neutral, labelling him ‘lazy and incompetent’ as the DP and his allies insinuate is harsh. On the contrary, the CS appears to be a victim of his own zeal. He has become a hate figure because of the single-mindedness that he brings to his portfolio.
The CS has deftly exploited the visibility accorded by the Interior Ministry and his role as the chair of the National Development Implementation and Communication Cabinet Committee (NDICCC) to grow his stature. For DP and his lieutenants reluctant to directly confront the President, the CS has become an attractive punching bag for venting out their frustrations.
Under the Executive Order No. 1 of January 21st, 2019, President Kenyatta created the NDICCC at the apex of the coordination of government development and designated Dr. Matiang’i as its chair. The CS has repaid the faith of his boss by shepherding useful and visible reforms in public service. Critics ignore this legitimate mandate and instead cite it as evidence of Matiang’i’s overbearance
The DP himself has previously rushed to Matiang’i defence when the CS was assailed by the Opposition. Then, Raila Odinga and his allies accused the CS of abusing his office especially the heavy police deployment in by-elections held in ODM strongholds. Dr. Ruto reminded critics that condemning Dr. Matiang’i was akin to shooting the messenger; that he was merely exercising legitimate powers and duties.
Matiang’i has been largely effective. Players in the roads sector, for example can attest to this. There has been a fundamental shift in contractors’ approach to public-funded projects with the creation of NDICCC. Details such as the cost, quality of workmanship, timelines and utility value of public investments are no longer mere entries in a contract but serious appraisal reference points. Lazy and crooked contractors now dread project inspection visits and for good reasons: some have been arrested and prosecuted.
The CS has also been a key figure driving mega projects in President Kenyatta’s administration. Dr. Matiang’i has taken charge of the rehabilitation of the Thika-Nanyuki and the Nakuru-Kisumu Metre Gauge railway, the revival of the Kisumu port and reforms to enhance Mombasa port efficiency and profitability.
Betting firms have also tasted Dr. Matiang’i can-do attitude with a sustained crackdown. He was also a prominent face of the Huduma card drive, Covid containment efforts and the return-to-school Covid protocols compliance when schools reopened after a long shut-down.
The CS’s hand has also been visible in the revival of the Kenya Meat Commission under the Kenya Defence Forces. His influence has also been felt in the roundtables he has chaired with the private sector and county governments. In June for instance, he chaired the NDICCC-Council of Governors forum where counties agreed to implement the single, county-of-origin levying of goods.
The author consults in Governance and Communication fields. Email [email protected]