, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 2 – Kenneth Mwige is by concept a very powerful man. As the Chief Executive of the Public Complaints Standing Committee, he is mandated to play an oversight role over all public servants ensuring that they offer satisfying services to Kenyans.
He is actually answerable directly to the President and is supposed to develop legal and administrative recommendations to make public service more efficient.
The office of the public defender receives complaints from the public and then makes follow-ups with the relevant arms of government. Over the last one year the office has received close to 1,200 cases and followed successively over a quarter of this. However in his work as the country’s first Ombudsman Mr Mwige has experienced first hand the same challenges that he was appointed to help eliminate.
His attempts to instill professionalism and servant hood have at times hit hard rocks as it challenges the status quo. Senior government officers have queried his authority and others refused even to acknowledge receiving his correspondence.
“It took us literally one year to move from a cubicle at the ministry of Justice where five of us were sitting to come to the open space here,” he told us as he took us round his open office block at the BP Shell house.
“It’s probably going to take us another one or two years to partition this block so that people can get serving points for clients and offices.” His desk is somewhere at one corner of the open space, a far cry from what his equals in other government offices have.
Procurement procedures introduced to curb corruption and inefficiencies, he says, have made it so tedious and slow. “On average it takes around five years for a contractor to move to sight in the case of a road project. The tenders, feasibility study and the approvals take too long,” he said.
However Mr Mwige says he is not shying off from his responsibility soon. When he was appointed to this high office his mission was clear, rebuild the government’s faded image.
‘The easiest thing in the world is to complain and to say the government is this and that, but when you get into the system it is when you understand why it may be take two months to buy a cup,” he told Capital news in the exclusive interview. “What we want is to improve delivery of services so that the period of service is shortened.”
Recognising the magnitude of his responsibility, Mr Mwige is determined to avoid the pitfall encountered by his former employer the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission – ‘a toothless dog.’
He is now seeking independence from the Executive. He exclusively told Capital news that the process of entrenching his office in the constitution had already started. An Ombudsman Bill has been drafted and is waiting approval from the State Law Office.
“We are going to be sitting down with the State Law Office and the Kenya Law Reform Commission to discuss the draft and see whether the Bill as developed is sufficient for purposes which the Ombudsman office should serve,” he said adding that they would in April and May engage with the Parliamentary legal committee on the same.
Mr Mwige hopes the office could be entrenched in the constitution in the upcoming Constitutional review process to give it more independence.
“Right now there are challenges. You write to some constitutional offices and they don’t respond to you. In fact they question your authority. You cannot blame them; they have a fact because in their constitutional provisions they are insulted to inquiries,” he said adding that such challenges “will be cured if we became a constitutional office.”
The Ombudsman is also seeking more resources from the State to help them expand their work throughout the country. He is now seeking at least Sh300 million for the next financial year to help employ more officers and install an Information Technology system so that members of the Public can record their complains online or through SMS.
Since Kenya’s independence government services were an eyesore. Cases of missing files, closed offices and unavailable services were the order of the day. Public officers operated the offices at their discretion. The government has partly succeeded to champion for reforms.
Mr Mwige is nevertheless happy with the progress in the last year and is determined to make the civil service an admiration.
“Certainly there will be a big difference from the time I came in and the time I leave and that I think is the most a citizen can want,; just to know you made a difference when you could,” he enthusiastically told us.
Mr Mwige is also pushing for the review of city by-laws some that have been in operation since the colonial period. This, he says, will make it possible to conform to the realities of today and attract foreign investments. He is also advocating for judicial reforms.
The Public Complaints Standing Committee (PCSC) was launched in August 2008 and mandated to receive complaints from the public and follow up with the relevant government offices. It is expected to make quarterly reports with administrative and legal recommendations to the Office of the President. The committee was created as a department at the Justice Ministry, a far cry from what ideally it should. It was established under a gazette notice thus lacking legal mandate it needs to fully carry out its supervisory authority.