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Unease as ministers’ advisers run the show

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By JUSTUS WANGA
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Simmering disquiet in the civil service over the high number of advisers in ministries mostly plucked from the corporate world is threatening to paralyse some State departments as senior career civil servants engage a slow gear to vent their disaffection.

The officers, brought in by the Cabinet Secretaries, have had their job groups fast-tracked to the dismay of many who have been waiting for promotions.

While it is not a new phenomenon, the sheer number and the amount of influence they wield leaves a lot to be desired.

Investigations by the Sunday Nation show that each of the ministers has an average of five aides who have unfettered access to them, with majority literally running the ministries.

Conservative estimates, going by the number of ministers, puts the number at 100.

Just last week, an influential minister added two more advisers. He has written to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to give them contracts with super perks. He now has six of them each with an office.

We could not establish the number of aides a Cabinet Secretary is allowed as PSC chairman Stephen Kirogo deferred our inquiries up to later this week.

So influential have they become that even principal secretaries have to in many cases get clearance from them to meet ministers, lengthening an already existing red tape in government.

Some have equally been accused of pushing for business with government, and since the assumption is that they are acting on behalf of the bosses, they almost always find their way around, manipulating tender awards at will.

“Sometimes you can have something to share with the Cabinet Secretary in confidence, but the advisers who may not even appreciate the functioning of government are not willing even to step aside, either out of insecurity or curiosity. They are controlling the ministers and there isn’t much you can do about it,” one insider said.

Most of them have created a ring around ministers and in some instances even issuing directives to technocrats.

Another one said the advisers have alienated the ministers from reality and fight anyone who they think is out to offer alternative ‘realities’.

“Go find out, but I can tell you of many cases of transfers effected just because an adviser felt that a departmental head was offering some competition to their job. It is terrible,” she said.

Mr Jerry olé Kina, the first deputy secretary-general of the Union of Civil Servants, says the trend is worrying and they are evaluating the options they have to stop it.

“Why can’t the Cabinet Secretaries pick their advisers from the public service? What’s happening now is morale killer. It is disastrous having some young, clueless person, who just because of proximity to the minister, giving orders to someone who has been in the service for 25 years. Some of these young men and women have little regard for the old hands. They think you are so stupid to have stagnated there for all the years,” Mr Ole Kina said.

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The unionist said the practice gained currency in 2013 after the Jubilee administration came to power.

He expressed hope that plans to have the Cabinet approve a document on Implementation of Succession Management (ISM) before it held key to addressing the glaring disparities in the service.

Most of them being in managerial positions, the affected officers hope that the union would vigorously take up the matter on their behalf to get better perks and more dignified treatment from the consultants.

On Saturday Public Service Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia said that ISM would be ready this week.

Many senior vacant positions have not been filed in a long period of time after cases of retirement or employees leaving through natural attritions. The scheme is expected to cure this.

Prof Kobia admitted that her colleagues had retinue of aides who are not from the civil service, but defended them from accusations of interference in the day-to-day running of the government departments.

“Advisers are personal staff of Cabinet Secretaries with specialised skills employed on PSC contract during the tenure of the Cabinet Secretary. They have no role with the line managers in the state departments. Cabinet Secretaries are free to pick whoever has the competence both from serving civil servants and outsiders,” she said.

Her remarks imply that those who came along with former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa are now jobless.

When she resigned from Devolution Ministry in 2015 at the height of NYS scandal, the current Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru left many of such consultants orphaned.

But it was a sigh of relief for the other civil servants at the 10th floor of Harambee House who had claimed Ms Waiguru hired individuals from the private sector with limited hands-on experience and offered them attractive packages, denying them the chance of moving up the job groups.

Publicity firm Transcend Media, associated with one time comedian-cum politician John ‘KJ’ Kiarie, now Dagoretti South MP, and political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi’s Consulting House are some of the consultants who had been working with the minister.

During the nascent stages of the coalition government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, State House Comptroller Matere Keriri stopped the promotion of an aide to job group P, a cadre with very few experienced officers who have grown through the ranks for an average of 15 to 20 years.

Some independent observers say that the 2010 Constitution blurred the lines between politics and the civil service.

They say that, increasingly, political appointees are finding their way into government at the expense of diligent career civil servants.

In the olden days, and still to a very a large extent, more than 60 percent of the service have come from the former provincial administration.

“They understood the pluralities of the country, especially so as a cauldron of cultural mix.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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