In the last few months, the proposed Kenya Roads Board (Amendment) Act 2021 has elicited unprecedented reactions from construction practitioners, professional bodies and the public.
This is expected, given the significance that road infrastructure plays in the development of our country, and the powers and influence perceived to be vested on the directors of road authorities.
However, what strikes as strange is why a bill, purposed to improve the standing of a director-general of a State corporation appears to diminish rather than enrich the threshold of qualifications set by previous regulations. The Bill proposes an increase of tenure of a director-general from three years, renewable once, to a non-renewable five-year term.
It further proposes to lower the threshold of experience from the 15 years required as a professional engineer in roads and as proposed by the Kenya Roads Act 2007, to merely having a “Degree in engineering, finance, accounts, management, law or related fields from any university in Kenya” with 10 years of experience.
Whereas no justification has been given for the unwarranted change of tenure, some reasons quoted for this amendment allege contravention of the constitution by restricting the job to only experienced civil engineering professionals.
Kenya Roads Board Act
The Kenya Roads Board Act 2007 came into force following the recommendations of Sessional Paper 5 of 2006 that identified stark administrative and functional deficiencies in a deplorable transport sector of the time.
Supported by extensive research undertaken by the Road Management Initiative (RMI) of the World Bank, the Paper highlighted lack of clear responsibility, poor institutional framework and the need for optimisation in the road sector as critical elements that required urgent and sustainable action.
These, if addressed, would not only streamline operational functions but also foster a conducive environment, where all players would contribute effectively, realising national goals and the aspirations of the people.
It is from these findings that the initial drafters of the Kenya Roads Act 2007 identified the need for having technically empowered managers, and a high threshold of requisite experience and qualifications was set.
The Act refers to these managers as the ‘director-generals’, but when inferred from their genesis and functions, these are essentially the chief engineers of their directorates. Their tenure of three years was considered from best practices to allow for timely performance evaluations and improvements.
It’s important to appreciate these facts because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As the Bill currently stands, withdrawn from the floor, its proponents must evaluate whether the intended elevation of individuals who have no core qualifications to such critical positions will come with legitimate or imposed authority, and the aftermath of such unwarranted actions to the affected organisations and their service to the people.
In the words of Lee Kuan Yew, “Singapore made it by putting the right people to do what they know best, not by forcing square pegs into circular holes”.
Maurice Kagwi, Nairobi