Moses Akaranga – Prelate with reformist acumen

Appointed Minister for Public Service in 2006, this banker-turned-priest, Reverend Moses Akaranga, is remembered for initiating performance contracting and the Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) in the civil service. He also oversaw the review of salaries and pensions for the entire public service sector Appointed Minister for Public Service in 2006, this banker-turned-priest, Reverend Moses Akaranga, is remembered for initiating performance contracting and the Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) in the civil service. He also oversaw the review of salaries and pensions for the entire public service sector.

On his appointment, Akaranga’s first task was to reach out and gain trust among the leadership of the civil servant unions, which had greatly deteriorated under his predecessor, William ole Ntimama, who the unions regarded as being least concerned about their welfare. This is perhaps understandable given that Ntimama was a dyed- in-the wool politician and more at home in public rallies than in corporate boardrooms. On the other hand, Akaranga was a career business administrator – not to mention his background as General Administrator with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God – attuned to negotiations that readily accommodated give-and-take agreements.

Time spent in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Assistant Secretary, Deputy Secretary and acting Permanent Secretary no doubt also enhanced his diplomacy skills. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration from the United States International University and a PhD in strategic management from the University of Nairobi to boot, Akaranga’s modus operandi of constructive engagement rather than threats shifted the management of the civil service from industrial court brawls and street protests to the negotiating table. These new channels of communication brought about a comprehensive salary review that cut across the board – from the lowest to the highest cadres of the civil service.

Previously, the complaint had been that government was only keen on the welfare of senior and a few middle ranking civil servants at the expense of the majority in the lower job groups. The result was felt as little motivation particularly at the bottom, which in turn led to low productivity. Sometimes the disaffection gave way to outright sabotage besides leading to a talent drain as workers left government service for the private sector.

To address the problem, the ministry came up with a bottom-to-top rather than top-to- bottom pay increment package. The lowest ranks – job groups A and B – would get a 20 per cent raise while groups C and D would receive 19 per cent. Groups G, H and J received a 14 per cent increment as groups K and L got a 12 per cent boost. Groups M
and N would have up to 10 per cent pay increase, while the highest ranks, P and above, would have their perks improved by eight to 10 per cent. The new package also came with mass upward mobility opportunities, creation of more job groups and better defined, fair, and transparent criteria for promotions.

Under Akaranga, the minimum pension payable to civil servants was raised by 400 per cent – from KES 500 to KES 2,000 – and the pension scheme was made mandatory for all government workers. Transport and other allowances for civil servants would also be raised by between 10 and 30 per cent. The 1953-born Minister’s next move was to address the issue of adequate staffing for the public sector. For 15 years there had been a freeze on the recruitment of civil servants following the 1991 stoppage of foreign budgetary support. The embargo on recruitment had resulted in a serious staff shortage as no replacements were made for workers who had left the service due to natural attrition – through death or retirement.

Even those who were sacked or who resigned were not replaced. The consequence
was a serious staff imbalance, stagnation and a succession crisis. Akaranga hired 100 human resource experts to evaluate and report on correct staffing levels, positions to be filled, and qualifications and experience needed. On the basis of this report, the government was guided on new recruitments, deployments and transitions. The Directorate of Personnel Management would also be reformed in order to handle recruitment, career guidance and evaluation. Government employees were also encouraged and enabled to go back to school for more knowledge and skills to enhance career advancement.

For the first time since independence, an unprecedented number of civil servants going back to the classroom was recorded during Kibaki’s presidency. Most remarkable were the numbers from the disciplined forces. It helped a lot that the paradigm shift coincided with the introduction of the Module 2 (popularly known as the parallel degree) programme that allowed mature students to enroll for degree courses. All of a sudden, there was an influx of students from the armed forces, police, prisons, wildlife and forest services eager to get degrees!

The government not only encouraged civil servants to apply for study leave but also rewarded those who attained higher educational qualifications with promotions and higher emoluments. Today it may sound laughable, but up to the late 1990s, the government did not allow the use of computers in government offices except for select services such as the payroll and security. In fact, former Head of Civil Service Philip Mbithi, who was once a university vice chancellor, went on record stating that allowing computers in government offices would cause information leaks and sabotage!

As a result, by the dawn of the 21st century public offices in Kenya looked more like museums or dumping grounds for old manual typewriters, broken telex machines and bulky, cumbersome telephone heads. This antiquated thinking was discarded during Kibaki’s presidency and under Akaranga’s watch. It helped greatly that the latter had previously been a senior manager in corporate Kenya and had even overseen a technology modernisation drive at the Barclays Bank of Kenya, where he had worked. But it was not for nothing that Kibaki’s government undertook to improve the welfare of its workers. With these career boosters came the demand for better services and more value for taxpayers. In came performance contracts for the civil service. This was a time when government employees, especially in the lower cadres, were notorious for under-performing – it was common knowledge that many of them reported to their offices in the morning, hung their sweaters or suit jackets on the backs of their chairs and disappeared to attend to private matters, which included business enterprises. They would return at the end of the working day to pick their jackets and clock out before heading home.

The performance contracts came with clearly articulated achievement targets as well as guidelines for checks and verifications that set tasks had been accomplished. Notably, the new policy would include everyone, from the highest ranked to the lowest cadre.

During the launch of the policy, the Minister said, “Everywhere I go, Kenyans are demanding quality services and value for their money. President Mwai Kibaki has also clearly stated that under his watch, Kenya has to be a working nation; no longer business as usual where civil servants idle around but collect salaries and allowances for no work done. So here at the ministry we will demand visible and tangible results. Short of that we will just have to part ways with those who can’t, or refuse to deliver.” On one occasion while addressing heads of Kenyan missions abroad at an annual seminar at the Kenya Institute of Administration (since renamed Kenya School of Government), Akaranga declared: “Henceforth it won’t be business as usual. We will no longer tolerate situations where Kenyans abroad cannot be issued with national identity cards or have their passports renewed in real time. We will also put quotas on minimum number of tourists to expect, and demand ethical behaviour, and ask for proof of how you have improved Kenya’s image at your stations of posting.”

Other notable reforms during Akaranga’s tenure were records management and de- politicising the public service. During previous regimes, the line between politics and public service had been completely blurred, with civil servants running errands for operatives in the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) party. Akaranga’s modus operandi of constructive engagement rather than threats shifted the management of the civil service from industrial court brawls and street protests to the negotiating table Chiefs and their assistants would be deployed on KANU recruitment drives or to organise party rallies or, worst of all, to forcibly collect funds for KANU politicians.

This ended when Kibaki took over as President. Also halted was the (mis)use of government vehicles for personal errands. In the KANU era, it was common to see GK (Government of Kenya) vehicles parked outside bars after working hours or transporting wedding parties on the weekends. A directive was issued and enforced that government vehicles must have work tickets with the name of the specific officer assigned the vehicle and the purpose of the assignment. At the end of office hours, the vehicles would either be parked at the work station or the nearest police station in the case of assignments away from the officer’s work station.

Akaranga also oversaw measures to streamline and upgrade the records management systems for the public service sector. Whereas previously government files would be dumped haphazardly in dusty disused rooms – a factor that encouraged corruption as clerks demanded bribes to search for ‘lost’ files, the Kenya National Archives and Documentation Centre was elevated to a fully-fledged department and mandated to work out systems for proper storage of all government records besides the archiving of historical material. In a World Bank-funded project, the National Archives also would train and deploy record managers in all government departments. This included purchasing modern storage equipment and shifting from manual to digital archiving.

Informed by his strong religious beliefs – as Minister he led prayers during Cabinet meetings – Akaranga in conjunction with the Ministry of Education initiated a project in which learners in primary school all the way up to tertiary level would be taught values that emphasised sacrifice, ethical behaviour and service to one’s country and mankind as a whole. As part of the programme, deliberate efforts would also be made to reintroduce the sense of pride in working for the government that characterised the early years of independence but which had been greatly eroded to a point where working in government was now regarded as a last resort.

Akaranga’s tenure also saw the government encouraging an organised export of Kenyan labour to other countries. Previously, this was left to individual effort. The programme saw many Kenyans, especially in the teaching and medical sectors, get jobs in Botswana, Namibia and Rwanda. For his able stewardship of reforms in the Kenyan public service, Akaranga was the 2007 recipient of the coveted United Nations Public Service Award. It helped greatly that he had two professionals of great repute and efficiency to assist him – his Permanent Secretary, Titus Ndambuki, and Titus Gatere who was head of the Public Service Commission. His Assistant Minister was Boniface Mghanga, also a career civil servant who had been a Permanent Secretary in President Daniel arap Moi’s government.

Aside from his sterling career in government, Akaranga was also a politician. His debut in politics in 2002 was something of a David and Goliath achievement. He made history as the first person – and a newcomer at that – to defeat a sitting Vice President in an election. He beat, hands down, the large-profile Musalia Mudavadi in the race for the Sabatia Constituency seat. Mudavadi had been appointed VP in the sunset years of the Moi presidency as a reward for backtracking from a rebellion in KANU after Moi named Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor, bypassing a long line of more experienced hopefuls. With the coming of devolution in 2013, Akaranga was elected the first governor of Vihiga County. In his victory speech, he acknowledged the monumental task ahead given Vihiga is one of the counties with the highest poverty rates in the country at 77.6 per cent.

He pledged to turn the situation around by prioritising agriculture, perhaps motivated by his time as Assistant Minister for Agriculture from 2003 to 2005. Ironically, Vihiga is one of the counties with the best soils, climate and rainfall levels throughout the year. He also promised to market Vihiga as a tourist destination given its scenic features, which include the Shamakhokho rocks, Maragoli and Ebusyekwe hills, Mungoma caves, and Kibiri Forest where the famous Tiriki circumcision rites take place.

Henceforth it won’t be business as usual. We will nolonger tolerate situations where Kenyans abroad cannot be issued with national identity cards or have their passports renewed in realtime.

But perhaps his most novel project was the establishment of the Vihiga County Community Empowerment Fund (VICOCEF), a revolving loan facility for marginalised women, youths and small traders. The core aim was to set up cottage industries through the provision of interest-free and security-free loans. But even with all that, voters in Vihiga did not seem to think their governor had done enough and opted to vote for Wilberforce Otichilo in the 2017 General Election.

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