A new government Bill expected to be tabled in Parliament seeks to set the maximum number of ministries at 24, nearly half of the current 42.
In effect, the Bill seeks to limit the power of a president or a prime minister to create ministries to reward allies or for other political interests. If passed, the Bill will also see MPs who do not have degrees locked out of the Cabinet because it makes advanced education a condition for appointment.
The law as it now exists merely says that the President shall appoint his Cabinet from among MPs; it says nothing about qualifications.
Many Kenyans who have served in the Cabinet, some quite successfully, did not have degrees.
According to The Offices of Minister Bill 2009 dated June 19, many of the current ministries will merged, reducing government spending on salaries, allowances, security and staff for ministers and permanent secretaries.
Among the major casualties of the proposed law will be the ministries of Medical Services and Public Health, which will be merged into one Health.
A new giant ministry of Finance, National Planning, Cooperative Development and Regional Authorities will be formed, bringing together three current ministries.
The Labour Ministry will be merged with Immigration while Defence will be joined with Provincial Administration and Internal Security.
Education will be merged with Higher Education to form the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
Agriculture is to be expanded to become Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Development.
The Bill seeks to enhance the autonomy of Parliament in performing its oversight role by protecting it from depletion by the Executive through the appointment of an excessive number of ministers.
Says the new Bill: The principal objective of the Bill is to fulfill the constitutional obligation imposed on Parliament by section 16 of the Constitution which requires Parliament to establish the offices of Minister of the Government of Kenya so as to define the number of ministries necessary for the transaction of the business of government.
The proposed law arose from a Motion by Turkana Central MP Ekwee Ethuro passed in Parliament in May last year. At the time, when Justice assistant minister William Cheptumo rose to respond on behalf of government, he accused Parliament of failing to play its role.
The Government is legally in place. It is Parliament that has failed to do its work. Parliament has continued to breach the law either by omission or commission, he said.
The Constitution says: There shall be such offices of Minister of the Government of Kenya as may be established by Parliament or, subject to any provisions made by Parliament, by the President.
Parliament has never made a law on the number of ministries and it has been left to presidents to have as many as they felt they required.
The first Cabinet named in 1963 by the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was made up of 20 members. It however, increased to 23 in 1969 but remained at that level until 1979.
In 1980, the then President Moi increased the number to 28 but four years later he again trimmed it down to 24.
In 1985 the Cabinet had 25 members, and these increased to 28 in 1998 before reducing to 27 in 2002.
In 2003, President Kibaki came to power with an unprecedented number of ministries 34 and in 2008, the number rose to a record 42 after the Grand Coalition was formed.
Uganda has legislated 21 ministries; UK has 22, while Nigeria whose population is more than 140 million has only 19 ministries.
Publication of the Bill now means Attorney General Amos Wako will present it to the Cabinet for endorsement before it is brought to Parliament for debate.
If passed it will help reduce the cost of government, often cited as a drain on the Treasury.
In the last financial year, the government had a Sh25 billion deficit in its Budget, driven mainly by the increase in spending on new ministries.
The Bill only lists 23 ministries, allowing the President elbow room for only one, which he may decide to create or not.
However, the bloated government will not go away any time soon because the law will not come into effect immediately.
The Bill has a sweetener for those enjoying the perks of high office. It says: This Act shall not apply during the term of the Parliament in which it is passed.
It shall apply to all appointments of ministers in the Parliament immediately following the Parliament which has passed it.
Unless MPs amend it on the floor, a leaner government will have to wait until 2012, assuming that the coalition government serves its full term.
The proposed law makes no provisions for the position of Vice President, the presidents second in command, because the Constitution empowers the President to appoint the VP from amongst ministers.
Neither does the Bill make any mention of the Prime Ministers role in the creation of ministries even though the country is currently run by a coalition government in which the PM is the coordinator and supervisor of government ministries.
Ministries which are left untouched by the new Bill include Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion and Water and Irrigation.
The Bill also seeks to give a clear job description for ministers. It says a ministers job will include formulating policy and administering legislation as may be entrusted by Parliament or by the President.
Daily NewsPost published in: Zimbabwe News