Kenya: Yatani Attracts Praise and Criticism in Equal Measure

19 January 2020

This week President Uhuru Kenyatta confirmed Ambassador Ukur Yatani as National Treasury Cabinet secretary, a move that means his predecessor Henry Rotich has now been officially sacked over the Sh22 billion Kimwarer and Arror dams corruption scandal.

Mr Yatani is now charged with turning around Kenya's economy from the turbulent waters of non-performance and the rising public debt.

With the agriculture sector on the brink of collapse and other economic sectors struggling, he will have to work extra hard to bring Kenya's economy back to where it is supposed to be.

When Amb Yatani took up the position in an acting capacity after Mr Rotich was suspended, his first agenda was to convince Parliament to amend the Public Finance Management (PFM) Act to increase the country's debt ceiling to Sh9 trillion.

This was to allow Treasury to borrow an additional Sh3 trillion in the coming years to support the budget.

Previously, the law restricted public debt at half of Kenya's gross domestic product (GDP).

PUBLIC SERVICE CAREER

Towards the end of last year, the public debt had already crossed the Sh6.1 trillion mark, fanning fears, and warnings from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) about the government's ability to repay the debts.

But just who is Ukur Yatani? He served as North Horr MP from 2006 to 2007 after the death of the Bonaya Godana in a plane crash.

He was then appointed as Kenya's ambassador to Austria, serving until 2013.

In the March 2013 General Election, he was elected Marsabit's governor on an ODM ticket but lost to Mohamud Ali in the subsequent August 2017 elections.

He was later appointed to Cabinet as Labour minister by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

He started his career in the public service as a District Officer (DO), rising to become a District Commissioner (DC) in 2002 before plunging into the murky waters of politics.

Opinion in his backyard and across the country is divided about his leadership credentials.

COMPETENCE DISPUTED

While some will tell you he is a hero, others claim he is a man who practices nepotism in every office he holds.

"Ambassador Yatani achieved nothing at the Labour docket. He failed to solve the numerous industrial actions posed by the teachers, doctors, nurses, among other government employees," Herman Manyora, a Linguistics lecturer at the University of Nairobi says.

Mr Manyora notes that he used his powers to crush labour without offering space for negotiation.

"If he was wise, he should have used the courts to guide labour in the country," Mr Manyora says.

However, according to North Horr MP Chachu Ganya, Amb Yatani successfully coordinated state business, managed government resources, maintained law and order and directed disaster relief operations among others during his time as a DC.

"He was one of the best performing governors. The kind of development he initiated during the four years he served as governor, has seen governors from other counties trouping to Marsabit to benchmark," Mr Ganya said.

TRIBAL CLASHES

However, his reign as governor was tainted by tribal clashes pitting various communities in the county. The clashes claimed many lives and displaced thousands.

Deputy President William Ruto, while appearing on a television show, threatened to have the county suspended if Amb Yatani failed to step in and end the clashes.

But his then party leader Raila Odinga came to his defence. Mr Odinga said Amb Yatani was being crucified for not giving opportunity to his opponents at the county.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader claimed that even at the national level, his party was not being given any share in employment and therefore there was no uniqueness in Amb Yatani's case.

In 2017, he lost key allies led by Marsabit Senator Hargura Godana to Governor Ali, accusing Amb Yatani of nepotism.

NEPOTISM

Looking at the list of people he employed at the Labour ministry may give some credence to these claims.

On November 15, 2019, his wife Dr Gumato Yatani sparked controversy when she landed two government appointments.

She was appointed to chair the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) council by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, as then-Industrialisation minister Peter Munya, now at Agriculture, also appointed her a member of the task force on standards and quality assurance.

Kenyans criticised the appointments coming at a time when the country was reeling from unemployment.

Away from the prying eyes of Kenyans, Amb Yatani made several appointments to reward his former political allies with strategic board positions in institutions with ties to the Labour ministry.

FRIENDS REWARDED

Among those whom he appointed were Joseph Lekuton (National Social Security Fund), Roba Duba (Agricultural Finance Corporation and National Hospital Insurance Fund), Sarbo Hassan Marsa (National Council for Persons With Disabilities), Isako Galgalo (National Labour Board), Pius Yatani Wario (Street Families Rehabilitation), Sora Guyo (Equalisation Fund), Nasra Ibrahim Ibren (Ewaso Ng'iro North Development Authority, Peter Molu Ibrae (Taskforce on Review of Framework on Child Protection) and John Segelan (National Assistance Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons).

Others are Nuria Gollo (National Council for Children's Service), Ali Gorai Badu (Advisory Committee on Trafficking in Persons), Christopher Galgallo (National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya), Mohammed Ordofa (General Wages Council) and Lokho Abduba Umuro (General Wages Council).

NSSF APPOINTEES

At the ministry, he had Chris Guyo Huka as his Technical Adviser, Yussuf Ibrahim as Communication Director, Hussein Adan as Senior Administrative Secretary, Halima Ali Ungaye as Social Protection Officer and Galgalo Dida Yattani.

Others included Jarso Gollo, Sharamo Ukur Mamo, Shuna Galgalo Dido, Amina Dokata Barisa, Amina Mohammed Muhamud, Lelo Bonaya Kanne and Stephen Sharamo Wario.

At the NSSF board of trustees, the following were appointed: Ado Mamo Sharamo, Barille Yatani Halakhe, Guyo Barako Yattani, Habiba Guyo Tari, Bokayo Sora Adano, Salesa Halakhe Ruricha, Adano Jarso Mekona and Liban Roba Duba.

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