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Friday, 26 May 2017
Please have your job, Noah Wekesa tells Uhuru Kenyatta; 26.05.2017
Dr Noah Wekesa says he has no office and no staff. He is neither a civil servant nor a parastatal chief. He is just that: chairman. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
The pain of being appointed to a bootless state agency came to the fore on Friday during a meeting of state corporation chiefs in Nairobi.
Former Kwanza MP Noah Wekesa, who has been chairing the Oversight Board of the Strategic Food Reserve Fund, complained he has been in the dark even as other government officials rush to claim credit for taming the food cost crisis in the country.
“Do we have too many institutions doing the same thing?” posed the retired veterinarian during a meeting of chairmen and chief executives of State corporations at Kenya School of Government.
“Apparently you are aware that the maize situation is a talking point everywhere, but here I am, chairman of the Strategic Food Reserve and I have seen government institutions, ministers, discussing the issue of maize in this country. As chairman, nobody wants to hear from me,” he added, sending the audience to laughter.
“A few friends of mine like (former planning minister Henry) Obwocha know that I am a serious farmer and the issue of maize, Noah Wekesa anajua (knows).
"Was someone trying to please me with this title of ‘chairman’ of the Oversight Board? I really don’t need that. There are other things I can do.”
Dr Wekesa’s sense of humour, though, seemed to hint at something more serious: in government, critics of the bureaucracy have accused the system of being too rigid, having agencies whose functions overlap and some that seem to stand in the way of others, causing infighting.
Dr Wekesa, who has been close to the Jubilee Party since he lost the Trans Nzoia gubernatorial race, was in April 2015 appointed chairman of Strategic Food Reserve Fund.
According to the Treasury then, the fund worth Sh2.2 billion a year was to procure and store adequate stocks of food for sale across the country.
“The object and purpose for which the fund is established is to provide a strategic food reserve in physical stock and cash equivalent,” Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich claimed then.
“And specifically, the fund shall stabilise the food supply and prices in the country, arrange for procurement, storage and sale of food commodities, maintain adequate strategic food reserves in physical stock or cash equivalent at any one given time and mobilise resources to support strategic food reserve related activities.”
At the time, the country was depending too much on the strategic food reserve managed by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB), which only stocks maize used for relief emergency supplies.
So the technocrats at the Treasury thought it would be prudent to create the special fund as a hedge against the unreliable NCPB, which has been vulnerable to cartels, and expand its mandate to handle other foods the country relies on.
But that seemed to have created a new problem: duplication.
The fund exists alongside the National Drought Management Authority, which deals with supply relief to stricken people, and the NCPB, which still handles the grain reserve matter.
And Dr Wekesa was here to lament about his painful experience of being the unwanted and unknown chairman.
“As I drove here, I saw a lot of cars with blue registration belonging to all these people here,” he said.
“I drove all the way from Kitale in my 14-year-old car with my driver, who has been my personal driver for the last 30 years, and nobody is paying me mileage to come here. And yet I am chairman. I have no office. I have no staff,” he narrated.
“Forty years ago, I was a civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture. Now they have taken me back there and I am sitting with my sons and daughters who are civil servants. I don’t want to be a civil servant again. I want to deliver.
“I would like to suggest that the Oversight Board of the Strategic Food Reserve Fund ... should be merged with something like the Drought Management Authority or something like that.
You wonder why unga is still far despite the announced subsidy. Duplication of roles and possible sabotage.
Dr Wekesa claimed he had enquired from the ministry if he was a civil servant or a parastatal chief.
The answer he got, he claims, was that he was none of the above.