Long, sleepless nights for William Ruto ministers over tough new work targets

Cabinet meeting

President William Ruto, Cabinet Secretaries and governors addressing the media at State House Nairobi recently before flagging off trucks carrying relief food to vulnerable households across the country. 

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

President William Ruto’s Cabinet is under immense pressure to fulfil six-month targets set during last week’s retreat in Nanyuki, with focus on five pillars the Head of State has set as his key deliverables in his first term.

Dr Ruto, Sunday Nation understands, mandated the ministers to set targets, in clusters of ministries in different sectors, based on five key pillars: agriculture; universal health coverage; a digital superhighway economy; access to affordable credit; as well as manufacturing and value addition.

“The President insisted on ministries not behaving as silos, operating under the bottom-up agenda, and ensure that every section sees what they man as part of a value chain basis, not one and end in itself product or service,” a senior government official who attended the retreat told the Sunday Nation.

Since his inauguration, Dr Ruto has set the ball rolling in these five key pillars, including the launch of the Sh50 billion Hustler Fund, granting financial autonomy to the police away from the Ministry of Interior, reintroduction of subsidised fertiliser, rollout of plans to digitise 5,000 government services in six months, as well as plans to put 370,000 acres of Galana Kulalu under crop production in the next six months.

Now, Sunday Nation has exclusively obtained deliverables set for the different ministries in the retreat where President Ruto is said to have attended all meetings, demanded punctuality in the sessions that started as early as 7:30 am and ended at 9pm.

For ICT CS Eliud Owalo, whose homecoming the President attended yesterday, he is tasked with ensuring the success of the digitisation of government services by June this year, setting up of 25,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, and the daunting task of the revival of loss-making Postal Corporation of Kenya (Posta) Kenya and the giant punching way below its weight, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.

The ministry, at the centre of the digital superhighway economy dream, has also been tasked with actualising the dream of the Kenya Open University by May this year, which will offer a total of 128 courses, as well as the setting up of 120,000km of digital superhighway within a year.

In line with his agenda of going slow on the capital intensive development projects, President Ruto has directed Kipchumba Murkomen-led Transport ministry to freeze all the big infrastructural projects which are yet to commence while on the other hand, audit the billions of pending bills and come up with modalities of payments by June this year.

The Kenya Kwanza administration plans to revive all stalled projects using a proposed Infrastructure Bond and budgetary provisions while at the same time starting the gravelling of village roads.

The Ruto-led government is also focused on reducing cost of construction by creating Materials Resources department that will be sourcing materials at cheaper rates and Mechanical department to oversee the construction itself.

For Prof Kithure Kindiki, who leads the Interior and National Administration docket, President Ruto has ordered that, within the next six months, he puts measures in place to “improve staff welfare, including career progression and remuneration”.

Already, the President has set up a 23-member team led by former Chief Justice David Maraga to review terms of service for police officers and prison wardens.

“The Interior ministry is also tasked to introduce Governance, Justice, Law and Order Sector programme to wholistically reform the police, correctional services, national government administration, civil registration services and immigration,” the six-month target agreed in the Nanyuki retreat states.

For Prof Njuguna Ndung’u’s Treasury, their biggest target in the next six months is the bid to reduce the budget deficit by Sh300 billion for 2023-2024 fiscal year.

At the helm of the ministry that set policies to ensure access to affordable credit as well as to raise the ambitious tax revenue targets, Prof Ndung’u, who has served as Central Bank of Kenya governor, is tasked with the heavy responsibility of ensuring sound fiscal policies to steer growth and increase revenues.

For newcomer Health CS Susan Nakhumicha, her biggest headache is the six-month target to enrol 17 million Kenyans to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) as well as roll out a health information technology plan to ensure hospitals can share data easily.

For the ministries of Cooperatives and Agriculture led by Simon Chelugui and Mithika Linturi, respectively, President Ruto has directed them to, within a year, double the milk processed at the Kenya Cooperative Creameries from 1.5 million litres daily.

The President also wants talks with 26 cooperatives finalised to ensure they grow maize to avert the shortages faced and bring unga prices down, with an equally ambitious target of modernising all ginneries to protect cotton growing and revive Kenya’s fledgling clothes industry.

The Ministry of Energy, led by ‘comeback kid’ Davis Chirchir, has been tasked to provide electricity to 250 schools and markets by June and provide all schools with liquefied petroleum gas by the end of the year.

The government will also be expected to stop buying electricity from an expensive thermal (diesel) power plant that has been selling to Kenya Power at a significantly higher price than others. The ministry has been tasked to ensure power lines like Turkwel-Kitale are completed and the Menengai Geothermal plant to start feeding the national grid.

According to details obtained by the Sunday Nation, the former Kandara MP Alice Wahome-led Water ministry has been tasked with ensuring the beginning of works on the multibillion Karemenu Dam in Gatundu this month, and that of Murang’a’s Northern Water Collector Tunnel next month, as the government aims to have construction of 95 dams started in the next six to 18 months as well as having sunk 150 boreholes and 800 pans.

Similarly, Ms Wahome has been tasked with ensuring the review of laws to allow the private sector to help in the building of dams, as well as ensuring the success of the multibillion-shilling Galana Kulalu project, also in partnership with the private sector.

Environment CS Soipan Tuya has been tasked with planting 1.5 billion trees annually, with Dr Ruto targeting 15 billion in 10 years.

Ms Tuya, a two-term Narok Woman Representative before her recent appointment, is also required to begin discussions to ensure use of five per cent of National Government Constituency Development Fund (NG-CDF) is dedicated to environmental issues.

“The first phase will include planting trees on 350,000 acres. It will cost Sh8 million to fence, plant and tend trees on 50-acre piece of land,” the six-month target states.

On his affordable housing agenda, President Ruto has put on the spotlight the Zachariah Njeru-led Ministry of Lands and Housing to commission 66 housing projects in partnership with private developers as well as complete all the more than180 fresh produce markets which have stalled for 10 years and start registering government’s immovable assets and issuing title deeds to all institutions of government.

Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs of Dr Alfred Mutua is expected to come up with a formula to raise diaspora remittance from the current Sh360 billion to Sh1 trillion in five years even as his Labour counterpart Florence Bore is required to develop a law to prescribe penalties for rogue agents at the centre of the exploitation of Kenyan workers in other countries, especially the Gulf States.

Ms Bore, the former Kericho Woman Representative, has also been directed to increase foreign employment of Kenyans and drafting employment agreements.

“The President was clear that he wants to see even more results after having ‘our budget’ (Kenya Kwanza budget from July this year). After that, it is either you shape up or ship out,” said a CS who requested not to be named.

The President told the parliamentary leadership to accede to the ministries’ request in the supplementary Budget coming for consideration when the House resumes next month and whip members to support it.

“The President said once your request has been granted and budget provided, then it will be time for results, no more excuses, as for every public money spent, results must be seen,” he said.

The Parliamentary Budget Office has already warned that slashing the 2022/23 financial year budget by Sh300 billion as proposed by President Ruto could have major economic implications.

Dr Ruto’s administration is largely relying on increasing agricultural production to arrest the high cost of living, something which the Azimio team is opposing.

“We remind this administration that fertiliser prices going down is not the sole solution to the food production deficit. Our production is being killed by climate change and inadequate rains and water. Without a firm commitment to addressing climate change, soon there will be no mama mbogas because there will be no mboga,” said National Assembly Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi.

Prof XN Iraki, an Economics scholar, has termed the measures by President Ruto to turn around the economy as ‘bold’ but says that over-promises might backfire on him.

“They are simply bold. Since the economy was the main front in the 2022 polls, he must demonstrate his commitment to that. The risk is if he over-promises. But if he delivers on these projects and promises while weaning us from the grip of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) like President Mwai Kibaki, he can start creating an economic legacy,” said Prof Iraki of the University of Nairobi.

Like in the economic sector, Dr Ruto’s big plan has been put under the microscope, on whether or not the proposals were a key revolutionary moment, or the beginning of a regression.

Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo, a lawyer by profession, told the Sunday Nation that the country loses a colossal amount of money which could be used in rolling out development projects while faulting the President for glorifying corruption by appointing individuals whose integrity are questionable for having active court cases.

“The President is taking us backward on governance especially with appointing people with questionable integrity. He also needs to seal loopholes of corruption instead of slowing down on capital-intensive development projects. The problem is the leakages, not investments,” said Ms Odhiambo.

But the President in an interview came to the defence of the accused, saying that Kenyans know that the criminal justice system was mobilised by the previous administration to achieve political ends.

The assertions were supported by Nyaribari Chache MP Zaheer Jhanda who said: “The individuals appointed in those offices have no cases. They were political blackmail victims and that’s why no one has been successfully prosecuted and many have been dropped.”

Governance experts Javas Bigambo argues that integrity is an important aspect of running a government hence should not be ignored by Kenya Kwanza administration. “Integrity is crucial in governance... it is crucial that all persons with constitutional and statutory mandate to serve the people should find purpose in the rule of law and demonstrate their renewal by observing the measures of leadership and integrity,” said Mr Bigambo.

Embakasi East Babu Owino wondered how the country wants to operate without subsidies when countries with advanced economies like the United States embrace such and the country does not operate in isolation.

“When you scrape off fuel subsidies, prices of everything go up. Increase of transport means that prices of goods go up hence high cost of living and this makes life difficult. Ruto was ill-advised to remove subsidies,” said the Embakasi East MP.

On education, former vice chairperson of the Education committee in the National Assembly Ngunjiri Wambugu argues that the idea of domiciling junior secondary in primary is sound.

“It’s what my personal position was, especially as a parent. The students at the age 11 and 13 are still very young children and mixing them up in the same institution with 16 to 18-year-olds would create quite some challenges in management of the school,” said Mr Wambugu.

Additional reporting by Samwel Owino