State Officers must be accountable to the public

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BY CHRIS KIRUBI

If you were to conduct a random poll amongst your friends, I can bet you that more than half will think that corruption in this regime is the highest it has ever been since independence.

The perception is that people have come to the table prepared to steal from the public, in the same manner that a hungry man prepares to devour a scrumptious meal. This is why most of us were likely to have believed some ‘bachelor of stealing’ story, remarks allegedly made by a President of a neighboring country.

Whether corruption and graft is at an all-time high, is something that can be debated. However, perception is a strong lens upon which we look at life. Any political science student will tell you that the perception of something becomes reality for most people when the message is reinforced. With time, the truth ceases to matter.

I think this is the juncture we are at in Kenya; where it no longer matters whether something was stolen, and by whom. All we know is that we have lost billions of shillings and it saddens us; billions that could be used to reduce the cost of living; combat child mortality; provide jobs to our unemployed; and generally transform our economy to a middle-income nation. Instead, these billions have been misdirected to people’s pockets, for personal enrichment.

These allegations of theft among some of our leaders have dented our confidence in the government.

We believe that the government should be doing more to put an end to this repulsing behavior. We have seen them in action – such as when we put our foot down on gay/lesbian rights but instead, we feel that they have turned a blind eye to our tribulations. The fact that they are also putting in place systems like IFMIS to streamline procurement and reduce opportunities for graft, does not seem adequate. Yet, this same strategy has worked in places like Chile where a public electronic procurement system has gained worldwide repute for its efficiency. So why is it not working here?

This is the reality – these allegations have torn down the social and institutional fabric of our country.

So what can be done?

I hear that in some parts of the world, your hand will get cut off if you are implicated in theft. Should we resort to such punitive primitive measures? In other parts of the world, the mere allegation of such a dishonorable accusation can cause one to take their own life. Shall we wait for the civil society and foreign governments to exert pressure where it hurts most? Should we be piling pressure on the Judiciary, as an independent Arm, to take strong measures where the government seems unable? Where should we as Kenyans find our balance?

The truth is that there’s no easy answer in this problem. We have already dug ourselves into this hole and must begin to dig ourselves out systematically.

To start with, I put it to you that we already have a requirement for performance by our State officers in our Constitution. As an example, section 153 (2) of the Constitution of Kenya states that “Cabinet Secretaries are accountable individually or collectively to the President for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions.”

This clause is very clear-cut in my opinion. We are not just talking about their powers; we have also tasked them with meeting performance objectives. In my book, the theft or misuse of public resources under one’s care means that they have failed in their duties – they have failed in their performance. The only logical thing for anyone implicated in failure to perform is to resign immediately. We can also demand that any Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary or any other public officer implicated in theft to be interdicted right away if they choose not to act on their own accord.

In addition, all public/State officers involved in procurement which seems to bring a lot of controversy on those who lose tenders, must be held accountable for the way they organize their tenders. If the tenders are found to have been manipulated for a specific person or company, the State officer in charge must be dismissed and taken to court. I believe this is one area giving the Government a bad image whereby purchases are being made by individuals’ for personal gain.

Equally, persons protesting the results of a tender must put down a deposit equivalent to 5-10pc of the value of the tender, for it to be investigated. They must be able to outline facts that are credible in creating controversy on the tender decision. Furthermore those causing delays and upheaval of tenders, with no apparent cause must be blacklisted from any future participation including loss of the deposit paid, as a penalty. This will discourage disputes and allegations that have no factual basis.

All major tenders must continuously go through an independent review body that addresses compliance and performance of those awarded to make sure the government receives in full what they have paid for. It would also be good to have the results of the tenders published on the Government website for future reference.

It is a fact that transparency of costs that government is paying for will reduce underhand dealings and must be encouraged. Kenyans must be able to defend the government form knowledge and information that has been made public.

The other consideration is this: it doesn’t matter how much effort we are putting into branding our beloved country in the hope of attracting investors, if there are equal or stronger forces creating a negative perception of our country. Every head of a ministry or public institution should be tasked with ensuring the growth of their ministry’s/institution’s brand and consequently that of the country.

This means that aside from responding to queries raised by the National Assembly alone, they should be more responsive to concerns raised by the public.

As the business community in Kenya, we are already engaging the President and his team through the Presidential Roundtables organised by KEPSA. Perhaps the State officers could put in place similar infrastructure that enables them to hear directly from the mouths of Kenyans. This will enable them to be more proactive in handling matters that arise instead of trying to patch up a reputation that is tattered.

Bottom line is, we must not only talk the talk, but we must be willing to solidify our talk with concrete action. The biggest responsibility of our State officers and public servants is to protect the image of the government by doing what they are mandated to do. If anyone cannot handle this responsibility, they should resign and walk away. One cannot expect an employer who has generously given an employee a job or opportunity, to also do the job. You must be accountable to your role.

I hope you will join me not only as we put pressure on the government to act, but also as we take our own individual measures to ensure that we continue to build and have a Kenya that we are proud of.

Long Live Kenya!

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