September 25, 2022

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Meet Kirinyaga governor Anne Waiguru: The doyenne of huduma services in Kenya

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Until she was introduced to Kenyans by President Uhuru Kenyatta as he named members of his first Cabinet, few people knew Anne Mumbi Waiguru. Her credentials were impeccable. In Cabinet, her star shone brightly. On TV shows she displayed confidence.

When Winston Churchill — the Prime Minister who led Britain to victory during the 2nd World War — remarked that “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”, that would seem to describe the life and times of Waiguru, the first Devolution Cabinet Secretary (CS) in Uhuru’s government.

Waiguru started by fighting for her space. It was a tricky docket full of politicians who sought to entrench themselves as masters of devolution and governors wanted more powers. Some even questioned the President’s decision to set up a Devolution Ministry, saying it was duplicating roles — in effect, challenging Waiguru’s position.

The CS defended her ministry and told Parliament, during her vetting, that her role was “part of managing intergovernmental relations and coordination” and also offer “support to other line ministries in undertaking regular intergovernmental sectoral consultative forums where relevant issues can be discussed and a coordinated development approach adopted.”

Previously, Waiguru had worked in the non-governmental organisation (NGO) world and had been involved in activism and politics. Devolution was a contested ministry. The Constitution had created devolved governments which were independent of the central government. Thus, several governors questioned Waiguru’s role. But she stayed on.

In terms of power and influence, and thanks to her Devolution and Planning docket, Waiguru emerged as one of the most powerful and influential Cabinet secretaries. Several key oversight functions and powers, previously exercised by either the Head of Public Service or the defunct Office of the Prime Minister, were lumped under the Devolution and Planning portfolio.

Also included in the docket was the coordination of inter-governmental relations and responsibility to convene and manage an inter-governmental summit that was to bring together leaders and key institutions from both the national and county governments. She was also responsible for overseeing both public sector reforms and the monitoring of performance contracts across the public sector. There were two other critical oversight institutions within her ministry, namely the Efficiency Monitoring Unit and the Inspectorate of Statutory Corporations which cemented her power within the Cabinet.

From the start, the President displayed confidence in Waiguru since they had worked together at the Treasury when he was the Finance minister. As Uhuru chose technocrats to fill positions in his Cabinet, Waiguru was qualified. Her first budget of KES 84 billion was an indicator of the centrality of the Devolution and Planning Ministry in the government.

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Interestingly, little was known about Waiguru before her April 2013 appointment to the Cabinet. During her vetting by Parliament, she said she was keen to centralise power and facilitate devolution. She described herself as a “reformer” and “not a conservative”.

Before her appointment, Waiguru was the Director of Integrated Financial Management and Information System (IFMIS), a procurement and payment dashboard that had been put in place to tame corruption within the procurement chain.

One of Waiguru’s first projects was to set up Huduma centres, which aimed at streamlining delivery of services by taking them nearer to wananchi. As a service delivery programme and a flagship project of Kenya Vision 2030, the aim was to transform Public Service through the use of Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) — a one-stop-shop offering multiple public services under one roof.

The programme was officially launched with the opening of the first Huduma Centre on 7 November 2013 by the President. With over 50 centres countrywide, millions of Kenyans have been served through the portal and physical centres. In all, 118 national and county services are offered at Huduma Kenya service delivery channels.

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Huduma centres are well received across the country and they not only eliminated brokers but also became a single point of access to public services, leveraging on electronic services and information offered by different public agencies countrywide. Located in all county headquarters and in many sub-counties, these multi-service centres carried out civil registration, issuance of ID cards and renewal of driving license among others services.

In May 2015, Waiguru’s efforts were recognised when the Huduma centres won the UN Public Service Award (UNPSA). This was a month after the programme won the African Gold Award on Innovative Management from the Association of African Public Administration, the 2014 Best Customer Service award from the Institute of Customer Service Kenya and Best use of ICT in the Public Sector from the ICT Association of Kenya.

While introducing the President to the team that made it happen, Waiguru said: “You wanted to cut the bureaucratic red-tape in service delivery, transform Public Service into an efficient, effective and ethical institution. You gave the vision; we came up with the concept and plan.” It was one of the first achievements of Uhuru’s vision for a digital government.

Anne Waiguru with Esther Passaris at a past event in Nairobi, Kenya.

Often, Waiguru would be tested by the governors, and especially the Chairman of Council of Governors Isaac Rutto. When they demanded the devolution of administration police, she dismissed the idea saying that would create confusion.

“We cannot devolve security now as this will create two or more lines of command and create confusion rather than tackle insecurity,” Waiguru said, speaking on the sidelines during the second devolution conference in Kisumu. After the meeting the governors accused her of displaying “high-handedness and rigidity” in an issue they described as complex and critical.

“We need dialogue to see what role counties should play in security because the discussion now is not if they should, but how they should,” said Mr Rutto.

One of the Jubilee Coalition promises was to revitalise the National Youth Service (NYS) to absorb the hundreds of thousands of youths who were unemployed and train them in various vocations. NYS was to be expanded as a major driver towards national development. Treasury had scaled up the budget to KES 25 billion, an allocation that was to turn around the Service and an indicator of the President’s vision for the youth. Waiguru was in charge of this transformation.

The new NYS was to have a well-integrated system with four pillars, namely: Paramilitary Training and Service Regimentation; National Service and Youth Re-Socialisation; Social Transformation and Vocational Training; and Enterprise and Youth Economy.

Carried out under the banner ‘Catalyse Transformative Youth Empowerment in Kenya’, this was supposed to be the largest project targeting the youths, and was aimed at correcting the perennial joblessness among the youth, providing them with resilience to run enterprise and hope to face mounting challenges.

Waiguru knew the problems facing the youth, being one of the youngest members of the Cabinet. She had grown in her career working in institutions of integrity as an intern at Transparency International before moving to the Kenya Leadership Institute (KLI). She was also a consultant for the Kenya Human Rights Commission and The World Bank where she coordinated the East African chapter of the World Bank’s parliamentary network (PNoWB).

It was while serving as a technical advisor to the World Bank, that Kenya’s political storm that followed the 2007 elections took place and Waiguru was seconded to the Treasury as consultant on governance. In 2009, when Uhuru replaced Amos Kimunya as Minister for Finance, he hired Waiguru to implement the Economic Stimulus Package, which was aimed at cushioning Kenya from the effects of the global economic crisis. Under this programme, the government had set aside KES 20 billion for targeted projects to spur growth throughout the country. This earned her a nomination as one of the ‘Top-40 under-40’ women in the country. At the time, she was the only nominee from the Public Service.

When the programme ended, Waiguru was promoted to head the IFMIS Directorate of at the National Treasury. IFMIS is an Oracle-based Enterprise Resource Programme which had been in the works since 1998. But under Waiguru, IFMIS got a boost. The system makes it easy to store, organise and access financial information. More so, it not only stores all the financial information relating to current and past years’ spending, but also stores the approved budgets for these years, details the inflows and outflows of funds plus complete inventories of financial assets and debts. These are available at a click of a mouse.

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The NYS programme was well thought and had the best interests of young Kenyans at heart. Under the Paramilitary and Service Regimentation pillar, the service planned to recruit and train 21,870 youth every year with graduation planned for November and May of each year. This would have ensured that every 6 months, Huduma Corps of 10,935 would be graduated.

The second pillar was National Service and Youth Re-Socialisation which was regarded as the ‘high-impact’ stage of the Service. This aim was to establish a Vector Control Unit of 3,645 servicemen and women. The pillar also envisaged a service brigade that could be used as a Traffic Control Unit in Nairobi under some designated officers from the Police Service.

With the government intending to construct 1,100 dams in a year, the Dam Construction Unit of the NYS comprising 2,250 personnel were slated to undertake this project. The Road Construction Unit was expected to help build roads of different classes across the country. Waiguru regularly visited and the Slum Civil Works and Public Environment units which were cleaning and beautifying slum areas by carrying out minor construction.

Whatever the project, the aim of the new NYS was to transform the destinies of hundreds of thousands of young persons across Kenya.

Under Social Transformation and Vocational Training, seven schools covering all sectors of the economy were planned. These sectors ranged from hospitality to fashion and construction to agribusiness, and the training aimed to expand and train new graduates and organise and fund some of the recruits to enable them start businesses.

Waiguru was at first criticised after the transfer of the NYS Director Kiplimo Rugut who head of the Service when she became CS. In response to this, in June 2014 Mithika Linturi drafted a motion to impeach her that was signed by 150 members of parliament (MPs). Linturi later withdrew the bid after Deputy President William Ruto criticised the MPs: “Leave Waiguru alone. Appointments and transfers are done by the Public Service Commission, the President and myself. If you have any questions about Kiplimo Rugut, ask me or the President, not Waiguru.”

Shortly after this, just when it seemed like Waiguru’s career as a CS was about to settle, it crumbled under the weight of reports of mismanagement of funds at NYS scandal, in which it was claimed that the tax payer lost an estimated KES 665 million or more.

The NYS scandal, as it was known, became a thorn in the side of the Jubilee Coalition. Pressure mounted on Waiguru to resign.

“I wrote to the CID asking them to investigate transactions that had been reported in the IFMIS as being suspect,” said Waiguru in her first Press Conference on the matter. “Those who have been stopped from benefiting from the cartels that have long controlled the National Youth Service and crippled its functions are now fighting back and are trying to indicate that there is a problem.”

Waiguru’s letter to Ndegwa Muhoro, the Director of Directorate of Criminal Investigations, dated 5 June 2015, came after another. On 26 May 2015, a Dickson Gisiora, on behalf of Nelson Githinji, the NYS director, had written the first letter to Muhoro requesting for investigations into “unauthorised access on the IFMIS system”.

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State House defended Waiguru and issued a statement saying the NYS saga matter “… had been twisted in order to execute a well-choreographed scheme.” The statement further stated that “There is no evidence of loss of funds given that the transaction was reversed at the IFMIS (Integrated Finance Management Information System.)”.

Waiguru said officials detected an attempt to hack into computers and make illegal payments of nearly KES 826 million (USD 8.2 million). Investigators claimed that the passwords of key officials were used to make illegal entries into NYS computer systems, which could have resulted in the theft of KES 695.4 million.

Other people were also mentioned in the saga, namely Ruto’s aide, Farouk Kibet, National Assembly Leader of Majority Aden Duale and Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen.

“This is the kind of situation where people are fighting back,” said Mutahi Ngunyi, the political scientist who had crafted the NYS transformation strategy, and whose Consulting House firm had been caught up in the NYS saga.
It was businesswoman Josephine Kabura Irungu who was finally arrested over the NYS corruption saga. She then swore an affidavit at the High Court claiming that the KES 791 million illegal payments were made on Waiguru’s behalf. The CS resigned on health grounds, and sought to be given “light duties”.

As the attacks persisted, Waiguru transitioned into politics but not before she defended herself saying “…diabolical machinery has been applied incessantly by misinformed and mischievous parties to intimidate harass and discredit both my professional and personal integrity.” She vied for and won the Kirinyaga County position of governor.

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