Jubilee’s stillborn public service reforms

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BY YUVINALIS TONUI

The much-touted reforms in the public service which initially promised to be the hallmark of the Jubilee administration’s first year in office appears to seem to have been swept under the rug.

The loud silence around it in government quarters is perhaps indicative that the move was a long shot by the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

All indications are that the recommendations made by the presidential taskforce on parastatal reform steered by presidential adviser and respected lawyer Abdikadir Mohammed and corporate executive Isaac Awuondo may not be implemented after all.

This is largely due to the fact that serving parastatal heads who are not ready to lose their jobs are doing all they can to stall the process and, with the help of powerful forces in government, they appear to have succeeded.

The Abdikadir team recommended drastic measures that, if implemented, will see a dozen state corporations disbanded and others merged. This means many of those at the helm of the bodies will be rendered jobless and those lucky deployed. The team recommends the thinning of the bodies from the current 262 to 187.

The Nairobi Law Monthly has established that President Kenyatta is himself no longer keen on forcing the changes even after giving a directive to have them fast tracked in late 2013. Going by the directive, implementation ought to have started in February 2014. A permanent implementation committee was set up to drive the process.

The president’s headache, we found out, is how he would balance TNA and URP interests while carrying out the changes. The fact that political interests have crept into the initiative shows that certain compromises must be made on the task force’s recommendations.

Sabotage
While TNA leaning Parastatal heads wants assurances that they will not been pushed to inflation, URP ones are also said to have reached out to the Deputy President William Ruto asking him to protect them. This has only led to a stalemate.

Kenyans will be waiting to see if Uhuru bite the bullet and implement the reforms to the letter.

Among those proposed for dissolution are the Kenya Yearbook Editorial Board, National Social Security Assistance Authority, Privatisation Commission, Kenya Rural Roads Authority, Kenya Urban Roads Authority and Canning Crops Board. Others are Tourism Research Institute, Kenya Coconut Development Authority, Cereals and Sugar Finance Corporation, Coffee Development Fund and Cotton Development Fund.

To demonstrate that powerful forces, both in Parliament and the Executive were not keen on seeing the reforms go through, State-Owned Enterprise Bill, the crucial piece of legislation meant to institutionalise the changes has never been tabled in the House for over one year now, and there are no indications that it would be debated any time soon. Besides, the implementation committee and the National Treasury are yet to agree on key clauses on the proposed law.

Another proposed law, The National Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill, which is meant to guide Government on how to manage its shareholding in listed companies has also been relegated to the periphery by the National Assembly.

Reforming the public service is proving to be a tall order for the Jubilee government,  as is the highly hyped weeding out of ghost workers through the use of biometric system, which appears to have returned undesirable results as reports indicate that many of the 16000 workers classed as ‘ghost’ have made their way back into the payroll.

Deep-rooted fear
“I have directed the Inter-Agency Technical Committee of the Capacity Assessment and Rationalisation of the Public Service to accord those public servants who have not undertaken the Biometric Data Capture, for one reason or another, an opportunity to do so,” Devolution and Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru said late last year.

Public service Commission (PSC) is also struggling to get its acts together since the country transited to the devolved system. PSC chairperson Margaret Kobia is facing heightened opposition from civil servants who feel that it was reckless of her to hand over human resource powers to cabinet secretaries, who are political appointees.

The workers fear the decision could lead to mass victimisation, a concern that has also been voiced by their union. The Secretary-General of the Union of Kenya Civil Servants (UKCS) Tom Odege said the fear is deep rooted.

“The civil servants are correctly worried. Other than allowing room for arbitrary victimisation, the policy makes it difficult to measure performance and upgrade skills.”
Odege also says that the union’s views were never sought during drafting of the policy.
“We only learnt of its existence when President Uhuru Kenyatta launched it last year. If the government hopes to have a vibrant civil service, they must be willing to hear what we say,” Mr Odege said.

In the new regime, the cabinet secretaries will now be responsible for promotions, appraisal as well as instilling discipline among the workers.

Prof Kobia defends the move arguing it would bring efficiency in the service.
“The policy is meant to remove grey areas in the public service and make it more effective. Some people who have been working under the current system for too long would definitely oppose it. There are people who have been working for government yet they do not have job descriptions. These are the things the policy addresses; it makes things clearer.”

The union wrote to the head of public service Joseph Kinyua to register the members’ concerns last May, a letter Odege says has not been replied to. The policy bans inter-ministry transfers. However, the PSC retains the oversight, regulatory and appellate roles.
Only time will tell whether the musical chairs of reforms in the public service will eventually yield the desired results.

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