Dilemma of Ruto’s Chief Administrative Secretaries Parliament does not want

President Ruto with CASs at State House

President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Prime Cabinet Minister Musalia Mudavadi take a group photo with the newly sworn-in Chief Administrative Secretaries at State House, Nairobi on March 23, 2023.

Photo credit: PCS

The 50 Chief Administrative Secretaries (CASs) named by President William Ruto will not be allowed to appear before parliamentary committees or on the floor of the House, raising questions about their roles.

Early in the week, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula said only Cabinet Secretaries (CSs) would be allowed to in the House to answer questions.

Mr Wetang’ula left it to the chairpersons of committees to decide what to do with the CASs.

The determination by Mr Wetang’ula leaves the CASs – who were on Friday ordered by the High Court on Friday not to assume office or earn salary until a case challenging the establishment of the office is heard and determined – in limbo as they were hired specifically to liaise with Parliament.

Last September, the Public Service Commission (PSC) said one of the roles of the CAS would be responding to issues touching on the portfolio assigned to the office and liaising with the National Assembly and Senate.

According to the commission, the CASs will also liaise with devolved governments on “matters of concurrent mandate and common interest” and providing “inter-ministerial and sectoral coordination”.

Other duties of these officers are representing Cabinet Secretaries at meetings as instructed and executing any other duties and responsibilities assigned to the office by the minister.

“Cabinet Secretaries will come here to answer questions. I don’t know what committee  chairpersons do. When I was in the Senate, we never allowed a minister to send a Chief Administrative Secretary or Principal Secretary (PS) to committees. We only dealt with Cabinet Secretaries,” Mr Wetang’ula said in response to a question by Kathiani MP Robert Mbui

“Let committee chairpersons decide what they want to do. I will, at some point, ask the Leader of Majority to give a statement on the floor of the House.”

Mr Mbui, who is the Deputy Minority Leader, wanted Mr Wetang’ula to guide the House on how CASs should be treated after the Speaker’s memorandum to the President on why Parliament could not vet the new appointees.

“Ministers usually send Principal Secretaries or CASs to committees. I would like your advice on how we interact with CASs when it comes to committees after you said theirs is not a constitutional office,” Mr Mbui said.

Two chairpersons of powerful watchdogs in the National Assembly told the Sunday Nation that they would not deal with CASs.

Nominated MP John Mbadi, who chairs the public Accounts Committee (PAC), and Public Investment Committee’s David Pkosing said they would only invite or summon Principal Secretaries as they do not recognise CASs.

Mr Mbadi said CASs are political appointees “who have nothing to do with Parliament”.

“I have no business with those people. My committee only deals with accounting officers. If they appear before my committee, I will send them away,” Mr Mbadi added.

He said no departmental committee should accept presentations from CASs, adding that doing so would be akin to allowing advisers of Cabinet Secretaries to make presentations in Parliament.

Delegating authority

“As far as Parliament is concerned, they are strangers. They can, however, accompany Cabinet or Principal Secretaries as part of delegations but will not make any pronouncements before House committees,” Mr Mbadi said.

Mr Pkosing said Standing Orders dictate that committees only deal with ministry accounting officers.

“The committee deals with accounting, not administrative matters. I will not even allow them to be part of a ministry delegation,” the Pokot South MP told the Sunday Nation.

“If they come, they will be reading newspapers as they have no responsibilities. If you cannot appear in Parliament to answer questions asked by Kenyans, who are you? Why are you earning taxpayers money? That is the question you should ask them.”

The change of the Standing Orders requiring ministers to appear before the House every Wednesday dims the CASs’ role of providing liaison between their ministries and the National Assembly and Senate.

Constitutional lawyer Bob Mkangi faulted Parliament for ceding ground on vetting of the CASs, saying the National Assembly should have recommended halting of their recruitment until proper mechanisms are put in place.

“It was a dereliction of duty. The National Assembly and Senate should have categorically seized the issue as the primary institutions of representation. Being cognisant of the stature of this office, the National Assembly should have recommended the halting of the recruitment. Parliament has failed Kenyans,” Mr Mkangi said.

Contacted, National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman, George Murugara, said lawmakers would wait for guidance on how the CASs can appear before House committees.

He, however, insisted that the Chief Administrative Secretaries would not be allowed on the floor of the House to answer questions on behalf of Cabinet Secretaries “since that authority cannot be delegated”.

“There can be delegation in committees. We can get information from a Principal Secretary or Chief Administrative Secretary but there can be no delegation but in the main chamber of the House. The Standing Order is very clear – only the Cabinet Secretary will appear,” The Tharaka lawmaker added.

He defended CASs positions, saying they are constitutional under the PSC.

“The Constitution gives the President powers to create public offices. There is no law that says Parliament must vet these officers. President Ruto was complying with a court order, which said we should vet them. That was a misstatement of the law by the judge,” Mr Murugara said.

The CASs find themselves in a similar situation as those who served under President Uhuru Kenyatta.

In 2019, MPs protested, saying CASs could not be the official government position respondents on any matter.

Then-National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, now Attorney General, ruled that the Chief Administrative Secretaries could only appear before committees with a written permission from ministers.

Mr Muturi, however, told the National Assembly committees to first determine if a matter before them could be handled by a CAS before allowing one to make a presentation.

“Committees remain at liberty to determine on a case by case basis, whether it is the Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary or CAS to appear before them to answer questions and how often,” he said.

A Salaries and Remuneration Commission advisory to the PSC shows that a CAS’ monthly pay will rise from Sh765,188 to Sh780,000 following an evaluation that puts the position at a higher grade.

The new pay structure means that the 50 Chief Administrative Secretaries will be costing the taxpayers Sh468 million in salaries alone every year.

The salary is made up of Sh459,113 basic pay and several allowances.

A CAS will also be provided with an official car with of an engine capacity not exceeding 3,000cc and a medical cover that includes Sh10 million inpatient and Sh300,000 outpatient.

This is in addition to a car loan of up to Sh8 million, a mortgage of up to Sh35 million, Sh20,000 monthly airtime and Sh50,000 annual leave allowance, the same entitlements of Principal Secretaries. Upon leaving office, a CAS will get a service gratuity of 31 per cent of the annual pensionable pay for the term served.