President William Ruto’s confession of his many phone calls instructing top officials on policy decisions, or enquiring about issues in their ministries has once again lifted the lid on the daily pressure and uncertainty facing those serving in his administration.
Demands on time-keeping with meetings starting at the break of dawn is a new approach away from the laid-back, easy-going operations at State House under former President Uhuru Kenyatta.
This has also put several officials on the spot for tardiness. Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, his Trade counterpart Moses Kuria and several other officials were on Tuesday ordered to offer explanations after they were locked out for turning up late for a meeting at State House.
Senior government officials being locked out of meetings with the President is not new under the Ruto administration.
His allies told Sunday Nation of instances when the President turned up for meetings earlier than a majority of them.
The controlling and hands-on style of leadership – that critics say implies lack of trust and confidence in his appointees – has put some of the CSs, Principal Secretaries and even parastatal heads on the edge.
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Some of Dr Ruto’s allies say he has to be in control since he bears responsibility for every government decision, but others say it has created an unfriendly working environment, denying officials an opportunity to make independent decisions in their dockets.
Multiple interviews with those in government, political allies and opponents, paint a picture of a man in full control of his administration, making phone calls even to junior officers to follow up on activities in every government institution.
Some say this style of leadership is the reason a majority of his CSs and PSs have given a wide berth to media interviews for fear of being reprimanded by him.
“Some of these CSs don’t show up in interviews and we end up not having our achievements known by Kenyans,” Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said on Tuesday at State House, giving credence to the assertion.
President Ruto on Tuesday revealed how often he has more details of activities in State departments than the minister or senior officials, disclosing how he often make calls to his appointees, who turn out to be clueless.
“I call many PSs and ask them what is going on here, and they have no clue, yet this is their department. I find that many of you don’t even know what is going on in your ministries or departments. You have very scanty information. The moment I know more than you in your ministry, then, you must begin to understand that something is very wrong. Because, by Constitution, you are supposed to advise me,” Dr Ruto said.
Cherangany Member of Parliament (MP) Kipruto arap Kirwa, who served as Agriculture Minister under the Mwai Kibaki Presidency, told K24 in a television interview that Dr Ruto’s style of leadership is a recipe for perpetual fear among State officers.
He describes the President as a micromanager.
“The leadership style of President William Ruto is slightly different. I have said it before; he is a micromanager. So, he will spend a lot of time micromanaging a department such that ministers are in perpetual fear,” he says.
Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations, says President Ruto’s leadership style is a departure from the previous regimes of Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and the late Mwai Kibaki, whom he says gave their ministers freehand to run affairs in their dockets.
Prof Munene compares Dr Ruto’s administration to the late Daniel arap Moi regime. Moi was also known for making phone calls to junior officials, including chiefs under the defunct provincial administration.
“He shows a tendency to micromanage. It shows lack of trust in his ministers. His recent statement implies that his CSs are incompetent,” says Prof Munene.
“This style of leadership creates fears and uncertainty. He appears to be giving both policy guidelines and instructions on how to do it. He appears to be in control of everything, which is not good for running a country,” he adds.
He observes that Mr Kibaki was in control, but gave his ministers a leeway to make decisions in their dockets.
ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya, who worked with Dr Ruto in the Grand Coalition Government, claims that some of the officials have confided in them that they fear appearing for media interviews to pronounce themselves on policies in their ministries and deparments.
“The presence of CSs in the media is very minimal. This tells you that they are micromanaged. If you speak to some of those officials, they will tell you how they operate with a lot of uncertainty and fear,” says Mr Oparanya.
“The other day I saw him in Vihiga launching a tap. He has literally taken charge of every ministry. The CSs cannot pronounce themselves on any matter until he says it,” he adds.
But his allies say he needs to be in charge as he is the one who was given the mandate by the people.
Eldas MP Adan Keynan says Dr Ruto’s approach was the right one, as it meant that lazy technocrats have no space to serve in the current administration.He says the President has to be in control so as to deliver on Kenya Kwanza promises to the people .
“He is a very firm, decisive and pragmatic leader. That is why those who are lazy will have a big problem serving in this administration. He listens and reads a lot,” Mr Keynan says.
Agriculture Food Authority chairperson and the immediate former Aldai MP Cornelius Serem described President Ruto as a keen listener who pays a lot of attention to details and likes making random calls when he wants to get first-hand information.
“If an assistant chief has first-hand information, he would rather call that assistant chief instead of calling a senior official in the ministry,” says Mr Serem.
“He is a keen listener. He also takes opinion and consults widely. He would correct where he thinks you are wrong. His meetings are to the point and he is also very time conscious,” he adds.
In a previous interview, Moi-era State House Comptroller, Franklin Bett, compared Dr Ruto to the late President Moi with regard to time-keeping discipline.
“He would say that I will be in this place at this time, and will be there on time. There were no instances of diplomats waiting for long hours before meetings could start. It is good to keep time. It is a sign of discipline,” says Mr Bett.
Dr Ruto on Tuesday told his Ministers that those who cannot keep time with him had basically dismissed themselves.
Stories of Dr Ruto calling even politicians in the opponent camp to celebrate them are not new. In 2017, a former ODM MP from Western – who requested not to be mentioned – received a call from then DP, congratulating him for winning against a Jubilee candidate.
When East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala) MP Hassan Omar decided to work with Dr Ruto after the 2017 polls, he disclosed how he was the first politician to call him after his loss in the Mombasa governor race.
“The first person to call me when I lost, unfairly, in the elections was not one of the NASA co-principals, not even my party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, but the DP William Ruto,” he disclosed.
Nominated Senator Esther Okenyuri, who served as an assistant director, research at the office of the DP, under Dr Ruto, describes the President as a consummate professional with attention to details.
“It’s hard going to him unprepared, otherwise you’d be embarrassed and humiliated. He outlasts everyone in the office, even the youngest. Those around him have to work extremely hard to keep up. During campaigns, he would do numerous rounds and still make time for late night and early morning strategy meetings,” she adds.
DP Gachagua told the CSs during the Tuesday meeting that, “The president has set the pace because he is the leader. If his pace is to keep time, let’s keep time, if his pace is to work hard, let’s work hard, if his pace is to go upcountry and explain to the people, let’s do the same.’’
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei says Dr Ruto is not micromanaging his Ministers but just being in charge of his administration since the buck stops with him.
“At the end of his term, the people will audit his performance, not of his ministers,” he says.