The word “government” attached to an official title carries a lot of clout, responsibility, and for some, not a little arrogance and many ideas about how the system works.
Now, apart from the media-savvy government spokesman Alfred Mutua, there’s the media-shy but powerful government printer Andrew Rukaria.
Mr Rukaria, the man who handles all government printing, including classified and security documents, perhaps knows everything about how the government operates or about the intentions of the government.
Even the business cards MPs carry in their purses and wallets are his products. All security sensitive documents are printed under his watch except, of course, for banknotes whose production is the province of the Central Bank.
Unlike the rather old-fashioned facade of his physical address and his next door neighbours — the Kenya Railways headquarters and the Kenya Polytechnic — Mr Rukaria is not your average clean-shaven, pot-bellied, white-haired civil servant who wears drab or ill-fitting suits.
He is a clean-shaven urbanite who sports a well-cut suit and snappy tie.
He has short black hair, a youthful face and a tall fit frame; a combination that makes it difficult to determine his age until you hear him say that he’s been in public service for over 20 years. He is the kind of boss who smiles as he cuts and shares a cake with his staff.
For someone who sat before hawkish lawmakers for close to two hours last Wednesday and told them nothing he hadn’t planned to tell them, Mr Rukaria is either a very bright man who knows on which side his bread is buttered or a very timid man who did not know how to answer direct, hard-hitting questions without implicating his bosses at the Office of the President. It could also be that he is simply a “system man” who isn’t intimidated by prying MPs — new Constitution or not.
This week has been one of the toughest for the government printer who, for the first time, was smoked out of his inscrutable and drab address on Nairobi’s Haile Selassie Avenue to explain to Parliament why he had the audacity to hold the President, the Prime Minister, Parliament and the country at ransom regarding the management of next year’s General Election.
The summons to appear before the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee might have signalled the seriousness of the offence but, for the government printer -- he who manages the government press -- it was a golden opportunity to explain the workings of the institution to the MPs and lobby them to pump in more money to increase efficiency.
The hearing was set for 4 p.m. at Parliament’s County Hall. Mr Rukaria and his team of top managers arrived some minutes before. They were directed to the waiting lounge. While his lieutenants looked apprehensive, Mr Rukaria was a relaxed man slouched in his seat, appearing very calm.
When his time came before the committee, he cut the figure of a Christian headed for confession. He sat submissively, hands clasped together and exposing a shiny ring. He introduced himself and then beckoned the three top managers who had accompanied him to also register their presence.
MPs were eager to lay their eyes on the government printer and, if the words of their chairman, Abdikadir Mohammed, are to be taken seriously, they had no clue that the “government printer was a person”. Mr Mohammed confessed that he had always thought of the “government printer as the building”.
After that light-hearted welcome, Mr Mohammed let Mr Rukaria wriggle out of the accusations of inordinate delay in publishing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Review Act.
Being a “person who has worked in government for the last 20 years”, Mr Rukaria followed the script; the one he had prepared for the House committee. He began by giving the overall picture of his mandate and laid out how things work at the government press.
Together with his team, he tutored the MPs about “pre-press, press and post-press” to an extent that, after waiting in vain for them to come round to the crux of the meeting — the IEBC Act — Martha Karua (Gichugu) interrupted and confessed that the presentation was “getting a little boring”. Print production and publishing is a business that requires patience.
That interjection shortened the script. And it was the moment the MPs were waiting for. All the “sins” committed by the government printer were laid bare. The accusations were direct, unflinching, and sometimes shocking to the extent that Mr Rukaria — a former district officer and district commissioner — squirmed in his seat as furrows crossed his forehead.
First he was reminded about the illegal insertion of the words “national security” meant to curtail the Bill of Rights in the then Draft Constitution.
Then he was reminded of his refusal to publish the report of the Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission, even when it had lawfully been presented to him.
Three, he was given a crucial constitutional Act, the IEBC Act, and sat on it for 13 days, ignoring the complaints of Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo and those from the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution to publish the Act that was assented to on July 5.
Four, he seemed to act under instructions from the Office of the President, ministry of Internal Security; would he please explain why? Five, he has published some Bills at short notice, why? And did he have the courtesy to get back to the Attorney- General Amos Wako, who had submitted the Act, to tell him that he wouldn’t meet the deadline?
Six, the MPs knew of an alleged meeting between Mr Rukaria and a top honcho from the Office of the President, after which, it is said, Mr Rukaria walked to one of his employees who was handling the IEBC Act and told him to delay the publication.
The MPs wanted the identity of that person and a confirmation that he issued the instructions to the employee.
Mr Wako and Mr Kilonzo had also joined the committee to grill Mr Rukaria. Seven, the MPs wanted him to confirm that he had not told the truth about the publication date.
Being the man whose address is just a stone’s throw away from police headquarters, the Central Bank, the Treasury, the Kenya Revenue Authority and even the President’s and the Prime Minister’s offices, and listed among “senior officers” at OP alongside the police commissioner, Mr Rukaria maintained his cool as he offered his responses.
He proclaimed his independence. He apologised for the delay in publishing the IEBC Act, saying it was “inadvertent and regrettable”. He said he was overloaded with equally urgent work from the KRA, the Controller and Auditor-General’s office and the Immigration office. He apologised and promised it wouldn’t happen again.
He took responsibility for failing to publish the IIBRC report, saying that a court order stopping the publication complicated his work. He said he was a public official who met many visitors in his office, “which is a public office,” and that he did not issue instructions to anyone. He said the employee mentioned by MPs was just one of the 397 in the premises and that he can’t be expected to know all of them by heart. He said the practice of backdating publication dates was what he did everyday regarding Kenya Gazette supplements and Bills and thus it was not unusual.
Got the point
But when he was informed that “you cannot publish a newspaper today, with today’s news, and say it is dated four days ago,” he finally got the point and apologised, saying it was “inadvertent and regrettable”.
He did not respond to the illegal edit of the then Draft Constitution even after the question was asked many times. Nor did he belabour his independence even as MPs kept pushing him.
With a Master of Arts in strategic management, Mr Rukaria applied some skills to do with hostile negotiations to handle the tough questions, and he had an inadvertent ally in the unwitting competition for the limelight among the lawmakers.
In the end, he had honoured the summons, defended his turf, and explained his position. He also found time to inform the MPs of Treasury’s slap in his face by awarding him Sh70 million for machinery, against a request for Sh2 billion.
Now it is upon MPs to choose whether to crucify him for failing to tell them what they wanted to hear or simply honour their resolve to come up with a law to manage the government press and the operations there in.
For now, Mr Rukaria will sit in his office, taking on more jobs.