Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha seems to have his in-tray on management of public universities full with a good number of them technically insolvent.
Latest statistics show that they, cumulatively, owe over Sh37billion. Much of this debt is in statutory deductions, which, is in the first place, a crime. If the law is followed to the letter, the top managers of these universities should be in jail. Over half of the top managers of these universities are in acting capacity while some officers have acted in the same positions for over three years.
Some analysts argue that apart from biting too much, by usurping the powers of University councils, the medical professor seems to be unable to expedite the process of appointment partly due to political expediency and legal hurdles that compel him to do the right things that he does not want to do.
Other analysts have described him as a good minister for basic education with his MBWA (Management by Walking Around) style, which has made him a nightmare to his officers in the field. He is ready to embarrass and administer instant punishment to his officers “found transgressing” almost like a colonial administrator.
This has earned him the nickname “the Elephant”. This alone is intimidating enough. Bringing this weight to bear on an ordinary mortal is scaring. Ideally, a Cabinet Secretary has to provide strategic direction and formulate policy, but not take over the role of an inspector and other officers employed to do the work.
On appointment of top managers in public universities, the law gives powers to Public Service Commission (PSC) to conduct the interviews and forward the names of the top three candidates to councils of universities, which should appoint these officers in consultation with the Cabinet Secretary. Recent appointments seem not to respect the law. There appears to be two versions of the law, which Jogoo House uses depending on the ethnic or political expedience.
The saga of appointing the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nairobi was the most interesting. Following the letter and spirit of the Universities act 2018, the University Council acted on the results of the performance in the interviews from Public Service Commission received and went ahead to appoint Prof. Gitahi Kiama.
The Cabinet Secretary was not amused. He went to court, but realized that the law was on the side of the Council. He threatened to degazette the Council and once again realized that this was equally unlawful. In this battle, Jogoo House emerged bruised and dirty. It had to eat humble pie and solve the matter amicably outside the court.
The University of Nairobi saga was not an isolated case. The appointment of Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) at Kibabii was equally executed by the University Council as per the law. Jogoo House was upset, but opted to retreat and accept the appointment.
The appointment of Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST) has been in the news lately. Jogoo House trashed Council resolution to appoint the candidate ranked number one by Public Service Commission and picked the one who came third.
Unfortunately, the disregard to meritocracy, which the good professor Magoha is expected to stand for, sends a wrong signal to the academic community. One Council member who didn’t want his name mentioned opined that they were surprised that the chair of Council was summoned to sign the letter of a candidate who came a distant third in the PSC ranking and whom they did not recommend for appointment.
Other Universities with positions not filled, but for which PSC did interviews for a year ago are Meru and Laikipia Universities. The process of interviewing and ranking was completed a year ago by PSC for the two universities, but Jogoo House has not acted to fill the positions.
In contrast, it has appointed the Vice Chancellor for Taita Taveta University in interviews done less than six months ago. Council members of the two universities who sought anonymity have intimated that the problem could be at Cabinet Secretary’s Office, which does not want to act.
“It is a one man show”. This indecisiveness and inability to employ meritocracy paints the professor of Urology in bad light. It also affects the universities concerned significantly. Pundits wonder how a man who came into the office vowing to stick to the rules and reform higher education is now unable to take lawful decisions.
The latest Saga in which Jogoo House is deeply involved is the illegal appointment of Members of Council of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST).
The court ruled last week that they were in office illegally. Question; is the Ministry of Education having a legal officer who should advise the CS? Why should he make mistake after mistake in running of University Education? An equally important case in the courts is that involving the re-advertisement of the positions in the same university even after due process of interviewing top managers was accomplished by PSC and names of the best candidates forwarded the to the Council for further processing over two years ago.
Public Universities, being national institutions, seem to have been captured by local interests and the Cabinet Secretary, who has approved the de-localization policy at basic education level is dancing to ethnic jingoism when it comes to university education.
“The Cabinet Secretary has been captured by the very village forces that he has been castigating,” said a Council member of one of the universities concerned.
The inability of Jogoo House to fill vacancies in top management of universities is not only stifling growth of these universities, but also giving a bad example to all the other organs of government. If universities cannot do things right, who else should? “This undermines what the president of the Republic stands for.
The writer is a journalist and Communication consultant based in Nairobi