Why management of more public entities should be given to the military
By OLIVIA CHEBET
When President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered that the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) be transferred from the Agriculture docket to the Ministry of Defence last year, many critics found it hard to take the move at face value.
Some politicians, civil society activists and even ordinary citizens read ulterior motives in the unprecedented decision, a majority of them claiming this was a strategy to militarize civilian agencies. Others saw the move as a ploy to shield the government-owned meat processor from scrutiny.
The president made it clear that he chose to work with the military due to the efficiency, discipline and integrity of its officers. He also explained that being part of the social-economic development of a nation was one of the principles in the military. But these justifications were taken with a pinch of salt.
Eight months down the line, the uproar has turned into accolades after Kenyatta commissioned KMC’s reopening this week.
Even the harshest critics of the move are now applauding the head of state for not only saving the struggling processor from imminent collapse but also breathing new life into it and putting smiles on the faces of millions of Kenyans who derive their livelihoods from the livestock sector.
Before the transfer to the military, the debt-ridden KMC was staring at its third and perhaps final collapse. It was operating below capacity, grappling with an unreliable supply of raw material and an ageing plant. Some farmers agonizingly waited for up to four years before they could receive payment.
Never mind that the commission has recorded profit only once - sometimes in the 1950s - in its over 70-year history.
Today, the KMC is up and running and the new management has expressed its readiness to maximize on the revamped facilities that have a capacity of slaughtering 1,000 heads of cattle weekly.
Farmers will be paid within 72 hours after delivering their livestock. To address the supply hiccup, Kenya Railways has started transporting cattle via the Nanyuki Railway line, whose revival Kenyatta oversaw.
The cost of upgrading the KMC factory - Sh80 million - was a fraction of what had been quoted before.
So impressive is KMC’s revival under KDF that Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr suggested that the struggling Kenya Airways be put under military management in a bid to overturn its fortunes.
Even the Agriculture ministry has supported the KMC transfer, arguing that this was the best recovery path for the processor due to the high technical capacity of the military and the large consumption of meat products.
The KMC success story offers more proof that President Kenyatta means well when he entrusts military officers to head critical institutions in the country. The head of state has since 2013 appointed a number of serving and retired senior military officers to head institutions that are steeped in inefficiency, corruption and mismanagement.
The officers have been ruthlessly effective in reforming the institutions, proving critics wrong and reinforcing their reputation as the President’s go-to-men whenever he wants to address challenges facing civilian institutions that are critical to the country's national security and development.
The institutions headed by military officers during Kenyatta’s regime include the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Immigration Department, the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS), Kenya Coast Guard Service (KCGS), National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC). Others are the Financial Reporting Centre (FRC) and the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA).
At the NIS, the appointment of Major-General (Rtd) Philip Kameru as Director General in 2014 has greatly helpedreclaim the lost glory of the spy agency and restore sanity in the country’s security.
Before his appointment, lapses in intelligence sharing between the NIS and the police were blamed for the ease with which al Shaabab militants were staging major attacks in the country, including in the heart of Nairobi.
Today, a multi-agency approach adopted by NIS, the police, EACC and other agencies is credited for the successes the country has realised in the war against terrorism, corruption and other economic crimes.
Maj Gen (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa’s tenure as the Director of Immigration Services saw him root out Nyayo House cartels that were involved in illegal issuance of Kenyan passports and work permits.
The appointment of Major General Mohamed Badi to head the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) last year has worked wonders despite being earlier criticized as a plot to undermine devolution.
On top of dismantling corruption cartels, Badi has rolled up his sleeves and done the work that elected governors could not do, including recarpeting city roads and clearing mounds of garbage.
Ms Chebet is a regular commentator on social, economic and political affairs.