During President Magufuli’s first 100 days in office back in 2015, the hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo swept across Twitter and other social media platforms. As we mourn his untimely passing, we must revisit this hashtag and ask that question again, in relation to the state of our Kenyan nation.
Magufuli was a resolute leader whose clarity of purpose was never dimmed by bureaucracy or circumstance. Thirty days after ascending to presidency, he announced a drastically scaled down cabinet of 19. The previous cabinet had comprised of 30 cabinet members. Thankfully, our Kenyan constitution only allows a maximum of 22 cabinet secretaries. However, we must avoid wasteful excess that continues to manifest itself in other aspect of government.
A simple example of wanton excess is the guzzlers that are favored by politicians. They consume vast amounts of fuel that is paid for by tax payers. Maybe it’s time to restore President Kenyatta’s previous guzzler ban. While serving as finance minister in Kibaki’s government in 2009, Uhuru had instituted a green policy requiring Members of Parliament and senior civil servants to only drive cars with fuel-efficient engines of less than 1,800cc. A restoration or enforcement of this policy would humble our leaders, save Kenya millions even as it lessens pollution. We could also go a notch higher by stitching to electric cars. Indeed, public service should be characterized not by big cars, but by big hearts, smart policies and big service.
Another change that President Magufuli effected was public procurement of goods and services. When he took over, inflated costs were the order of the day. Magufuli decreed that any public servant who condoned or facilitated inflated costs would be fired. This restored sanity in public procurement and saved the government billions. Inflated costs are one of the worst kept secrets in government tenders here in Kenya. We can address this by fully digitizing all procurement of goods and services and truthfully opening them up to public scrutiny at any given time. That way, it will be clear for instance, that construction of a road ended up costing 100 million even though the market rate may be half that amount.
On his third day in office, Magufuli banned foreign travel by public servants. In the same breath, he illegalized first-class tickets for those who had to travel. This simple measure saved the Tanzanian government $429.5 million between November 2015 and November 2016. Think of how much money we will save if we walk down a similar path! We don’t have to copy and paste exactly what he did, but should definitely be guided by a northern star of ending government excess in any shape or form. Wasteful government spending is a slap in the face of hardworking tax payers.
The Kenya government was walking in the right direction when it banned holding government meetings in private hotels. It however, rescinded this ban in June 2020, in order to support the hospitality sector. The spirit behind the initial ban must be upheld in other sectors of public spending. There must be an all-out war on excess.
Interestingly, in the early days of his presidency, Magufuli put a stop to unnecessary physical meetings and directed officials to instead hold conference calls. This was long before the covid-19 pandemic necessitated virtual meetings. Now that we have to adjust to life with the Corona threat hanging over our heads, virtual government meetings must be the norm, not the exception. However, funds saved must always be disclosed.
Through Dr. Magufuli’s no-nonsense resolution, the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) drastically increased its monthly revenue from Tanzania shillings 900 billion to Tanzania Shillings 1.8 trillion. The Kenya Revenue Authority could use such resolution. However, increased tax revenue should always go hand in hand with increased efficiency in usage of tax payer money.
Magufuli’s resolute leadership was particularly evident in his zero tolerance of incompetency in public servants. Within the first ninety days of his tenure, he fired more than 150 senior civil servants.
Here in Kenya, we must also do whatever it takes to uphold highly efficient, accountable and transparent public service. The same way we cannot tolerate incompetence in the private sector, we must not do so in the public sector.
President Magufuli was a unique, transformative leader who deployed his authoritarian tendencies towards the good of the common man. His flaws should not mask the incredible leadership lessons that can make his country and the entire Africa a better place. Meanwhile, may God Almighty favor Tanzania’s first ever woman President Samia Suluhu Hassan.