Being the head of a parastatal in Kenya is probably one of the most insecure jobs that one would wish for. That notwithstanding, the number of people applying for any vacant parastatal job, particularly in the so called strategic state corporations, shows there is something lucrative about the job.
A case in point is the fact that a total of 120 individuals applied for the position of Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) managing director when it was advertised in November only to be terminated mid-stream and re-advertised again.
More critically, the high level of lobbying and jostling that often comes into play for the positions lives no doubt that being the head of a parastatal is the ultimate prized job. Politicians, in particular, want to see “their people” appointed, something that is largely responsible for the rot in majority of the state corporations.
Despite the irony of job insecurity and jostling for positions that characterise state entities, a new phenomenon has emerged that somehow gives stability to the otherwise crisis ridden position of a parastatal head. The phenomenal is that of an Ag CEO - that is the acting chief executive officer.
To avoid generating controversies whenever a position of a parastatal head falls vacant, the government – line ministries in this case – is opting for the safe option of naming an acting boss and promising to fill the position through a competitive recruitment process soon enough. Going by the numerous parastatals that are being run by acting bosses, this is seldom the case.
Today, the number of state corporations without substantive heads is in the tens. Some of the acting heads, like Capital Markets Authority Ag CEO Paul Muthaura, has been acting for more than four years.
The rising numbers of Ag CEOs has reached a point of worry. It is imperative to note that holding a top position as an acting boss has many limitations. Many operate in an environment of fear from making critical decisions. For them, the job is a balancing act or, more specifically, a carrot and stick case, which forces them to trend carefully. In this situation, Kenyans are the losers.
When the Jubilee government came into power, it promised widespread reforms of state corporations. A Presidential Taskforce on Parastatal Reforms was even appointed and went on to come up with a report on what needs to be done. A year down the line, the report is now gathering dust in government shelves probably because the government realized dismantling the status quo is akin to swallowing a hot potato.
But if reforming the state corporations is such a difficult thing, appointing substantive CEOs should be the easiest of tasks. This is why we are telling the government to institute the processes of recruiting CEOs for all the parastatals with Ag CEOs. If this is difficult, just confirm all the Ag CEOs. As a country we will accept and move on with life.
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