By Machel Waikenda
When President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the country last weekend, it became clear that Kenya was at a tight corner. It is evident that the government, while willing to sort out the education crisis, it is evident that the country’s economy is not accommodating this need.
Like the President said, we need to approach this matter with sobriety as we seek to address the education crisis.
In fact, we not only need to handle the teachers’ pay but re-look at the entire public sector wage bill.
It is encouraging that the crisis has brought us to a situation where we are ready to engage in the wage bill discussion. The suggestion to cut salaries fronted by Ababu Namwamba is a noble one but which must also be looked at holistically.
This is a time to adopt sobriety and avoid taking the populist route. Targeting politicians is definitely a populist move unless it is looked at holistically as part of dealing with the entire wage bill.
A clear job evaluation must be done to deal with redundancy as well as ensure that all those who are in the public service give us value. This must also be done for teachers whose unions have refused the issue of performance contracts.
Remuneration in the public sector must be based on productivity and not just existence. Jobs in the public sector must not just exist but must be contributing to the economy.
Politicians are the easy targets because of history but the new Constitution has dealt with this by ensuring that they do not set their pay and benefits any more.Previous Parliaments were exempted from taxes but each MP and Senator today pays taxes on both the basic pay and allowances.
Politicians too have responsibilities and unlike most other Kenyans theirs is not limited to their immediate families. For many Kenyans, their area elected leader is their first source when they want to raise funds for both community and individual needs.
The salaries and benefits of elected leaders and constitutional office holders are prescribed for in law. This means that it is not what the MPs, the Senators or the MCAs have set for themselves.
Getting back to teachers, they need to listen if indeed they are ready to be listened to.Kenya has had more than 10 national teachers’ strikes since the first one in 1962, a year before independence.
But let’s backtrack a bit and dissect the matter at hand with some sobriety. Do teachers have legitimate concerns about their welfare? Yes, they do. Has government appeared to brush them under the carpet? Yes, it has. Have both parties exhausted all avenues of civil negotiation such that the only recourse is threats and intimidation? Perhaps not.
As it is, teachers know they hold the moral high ground seeing as they moved their demands from the court corridors and street demonstrations and even allowed students to sit their end-of-year examinations without a hitch.
Will it change the fact that teachers last signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement 17 years ago? Is it true that it is the lethargy of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) that has derailed the pay talks? Has the Constitution been subverted by bypassing the Teachers Service Commission’s mandate to handle all matters concerning the welfare of teachers?
Has government lost the plot and increased remuneration of various political cadres while leaving the long-suffering teachers at the bottom of the remuneration ladder? Do parents and students, who will be the most affected, have any say in any of these matters?
As we attempt to answer these questions, it is paramount that we also think of the impact of not opening the schools on time and how these affect the learning of children. This is especially key for students who are in their final year and who will be preparing to sit their national examinations.
Students must not be left to suffer over the disagreement between the government and the teachers over these longstanding issues. An urgent solution must be sought to ensure that there is an amicable solution that will see the school calendar not disrupted.
Meanwhile, the government must ensure that it keeps its end of the bargain by honoring the agreements made with the teachers.
Teachers are an important aspect of the society as they help shape it at a young age as they teach our children. It is therefore important that their welfare is taken care of well and in a manner acceptable to all standards and with respect to the country’s economy.
We must all thus urge the government and the teachers to sit down again and come up with another solution. Teachers should also give dialogue a chance by getting back to class and ensuring learning continues.
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)