Impudent ministers on wrong side of history

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KABANDO wa KABANDO

The raging debate about public appointments of heads of public sector institutions by Cabinet Ministers is a classic contest in the balance of power between the wielders of authority on the one hand, and the role of the citizen in it, on the other. It is about governance.

This enduring contest is not unique to us, rather it confronts every society. Indeed, it sustained the fight for expansion of political space in Kenya that culminated in the new Constitution.

The fact that appointments to public institutions continue to happen in total disregard of both the letter and spirit of the new law is baffling. Whilst it would be naïve to expect old habits to simply fade away, it nonetheless surprises that even after we unveiled the new law and even took fresh oaths, we continue to witness blatant disregard of clear-cut provisions of the new law.

When a Cabinet minister decides to ignore procedure in the appointment of public officers, it\’s not just a mere administrative upset, rather it\’s a violation of the Constitution.

Chapter six on Leadership and Integrity had anticipated that we shall continue to have our fair share of bumptious wielders of authority, and took sufficient care of them by defining the responsibilities of leadership and the guiding principles of leadership and integrity. 

The new law says among others things that the authority assigned to a State officer has to be exercised in a manner that demonstrates respect for the people; brings honour to the nation and dignity to the office; and promotes public confidence in the integrity of the office.

More precisely, the guiding principles of leadership and integrity prescribe that the selection to public office should be on the basis of personal integrity, competence and suitability; objectivity and impartiality in decision-making, and in ensuring that decisions are not influenced by nepotism, favouritism, other improper motives or corrupt practices.

It should be pegged on selfless service, based solely on the public interest, demonstrated by honesty in the execution of public duties; and the declaration of any personal interest that may conflict with public duties.

All the above sounds like it\’s from a different planet, yet all of us took oaths to respect and protect it just a few weeks ago.

Perhaps there are those among us who may be wondering what the big deal is all about if Cabinet Ministers appoint someone to a position without reference to the structured advice given. We can even say they are not rubber stamps after all, as they too have an opinion. To be fair to ministers, a level of discretion is allowed to guard against bad advice.

But is this the Kenyan experience? Hardly! What is most intriguing is that while it would be expected that a Cabinet Minister would exercise discretion and apply their presumed superior wisdom and \’higher calling\’ to headhunt and deliver superior judgement in the selection of appointees, the opposite has been the case.

There is an almost irresistible tendency towards mediocrity in most such decisions, where the minister\’s chosen appointee will almost always be patently inferior to the one chosen through the established structured selection process.

Is this surprising? Not in the least, \’new dispensation\’ is under threat by impunity merchants unless we boldly, spiritedly and consistently defend the Katiba principles.

The motivations behind most appointments are such varied they range from the calculative to the comical. I guess some us must have interpreted yote yawezekana bila Moi (everything is possible with the exit of Moi) to mean that now that you do not have to consult with State House, you can go ahead and make decisions – legal and otherwise – and they will stand. Others appear to be on an ego trip and therefore have to demonstrate particularly to their constituents that they are truly occupying the seat \’with both bottoms\’.

When then you remember that ministers owe their positions not necessarily to capacity to deliver a job or inspire confidence but to narrow ethno-political calculus, then you begin to understand the folly we are mired in.

Of particular interest is ministerial appointments to industry regulatory bodies, which of essence need to earn the confidence of the regulated as competent enforcers of standards and impartial arbiters of disputes.

The fact that these organisations also impose levies on Kenyans implies that if the minister concerned ignores established boards comprising representatives of ratepayers to the organisation, it would be perfectly legitimate for the ratepayers to withhold their levies, as there should be no taxation without representation.

The canon of fair taxation implies that a state entity forfeits its right to levy tax on citizens if it denies them the right to be heard.
The sad reality is that most of the contested appointments fall short on the very issues that are core to performance, namely: technical competence, integrity and performance record, not to mention ethnic balance.
The elevation of ethnicity above all else makes it a veritable factor of production that determines allocation of goods and services.
Kenyans therefore have to live with the cognitive dissonance of a double identity, as they belong to the nation of Kenya – which is a national cake to be eaten – and at the same time owe great allegiance and consciousness to the other nation called ethnic group – to which the loot from Kenya is to be vested.

It may not be particularly surprising when contested ministerial appointments are done by ministers carried forward from the old order. Nobody expected them to be different. What is disappointing however is that those expected to deliver the much-needed fresh air  – the fire-eating, NGO-hugging, award-winning \’transparency and accountability warriors\’ of the 1990s –  have not only been brought \’up to speed\’ but have outdone their former nemesis.

I guess this is popular philosophy since its not only profitable but it grants impunity. After all, they reckon, even if you are unhappy with what you see, uta-do? (so what?).

The pervasiveness of patronage-driven appointments across the political divide, if ever there\’s one, confirms the entrenched moral vacuity and deceit of our politics, which has given a new definition to the concept of \’Unity in Diversity\’ – that we are all united in the \’tumbo school of thought\’.

Being of minority ethnic heritage does not block majority national endorsement, as parliament proved while approving judicial service commission nominees. Yelling ethnic parleys and executing class conspiracies of the loud roll out for meritocracy.

The new Kenya Demands of us not to be lackeys and loyalist, but to remain bold agents, event unconventional networks. We must take the risk, to advantage new ways. That\’s the unrelenting call in the Katiba. Charlatans and hostages of fraud and tribalism are fast becoming isolated.

Viva New Kenya!

(Kabando is an assistant minister for Sports. His Industrialisation counterpart Nderitu Mureithi contributed to this blog).

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