In 2018, the Universities Act 2012 was amended to enhance transparency, competition, fairness and accountability in the recruitment of vice-chancellors (VCs), deputy vice-chancellors (DVCs) and principals of constituent colleges.
Notably, the amendment bestowed the Public Service Commission (PSC) with the power to substantively conduct the recruitment of the top officials and forward the names of the most successful candidates to the respective university council for consideration. The council then submits the name of the top candidate to the Education Cabinet secretary for confirmation and formal appointment.
Worth noting is that the change in the law was informed by the need to align the appointments with the Constitution — particularly the national values and principles of governance in Article 10, principles of leadership and integrity in Article 73 and the principles of public service (Article 232).
However, earlier this year, the Cabinet approved another amendment to the Act to give back powers of appointment of VCs and DVCs to the minister. Under the proposed law, the CS will constitute a selection panel to conduct the recruitment and present a list of successful candidates to him to choose from for appointment.
It’s noteworthy that the proposed changes have come barely 18 months after a row between the CS and the council of the University of Nairobi over the appointment of Prof Stephen Kiama as the VC of the premier institution.
Whereas changes that seek to enhance integrity, transparency and accountability in the recruitment should be welcome, it seems that the driving force for the proposed amendment is to give back the appointment powers to the CS. In so doing, the CS will be bestowed with immense powers, thereby diminishing the roles of the university councils and PSC in the appointment of top officials.
Concentration of power
Undoubtedly, that will lead to concentration of power in the CS as opposed to the principle of dispersal of power in the Constitution. This could lead to whimsical, capricious and opaque appointments. Tellingly, there is no clarity of the mischief or bottleneck in the current procedure that the proposed amendment seeks to remedy.
The country should not replace the appointment of VCs and their deputies through an independent body with one where the CS wields too much power. That will be regressive. How independent will that panel be? Why give the CS almost unfettered powers in the process? Where would be the administrative checks and balances in appointment?
If there are challenges in the current process, what is needed is to improve it by infusing transparency, meritocracy, fairness and accountability — not reverting to the old order. This alignment was also informed by the constitutional principle of dispersal of power as opposed to concentration of power in an individual as was the case before 2018.
Mr Opany is a development communication specialist. [email protected]