I took interest in governance while in form one, thanks to my history teacher. His teaching was very dynamic: one day he would ask what the capital city of Hungary is and the next, the subject of debate in Parliament the previous day, and so on. It was during one of the history lessons that a discussion on a motion of no confidence on the President (Daniel arap Moi) tabled by James Orengo came up. I was impressed by the guts of the back-bencher and so I later read the Daily Nation and the East African Standard, pulled highlights of the outcome and pinned on our library notice board.
Of course the motion was defeated ‒ only 67 MPs voted in support of the motion while 137 voted against; six MPs were reported to have abstained. This incident ushered me into a sociopolitical world I had not known before – one characterised by the intrigues and struggles in our political landscape.
Looking back through history, one can easily conclude that we seem to be in perpetual pursuit for good governance. The change we seek is fleeting and we seem to lack the right people (or at least enough) to incubate and nurture the political culture we desire.
The country was pregnant with hope after the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010, which is hailed as one of the most progressive in the world. We are now on the sixth year of its implementation and the score card is not that impressive.
We were amazed the other day when former United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron opted to resign when the British voted to leave the European Union in defiance of his “Remain campaign”. He had done nothing wrong but stepped down purely on the basis of principle. This is contrary to what happens in our context where we cling to public officer at whatever cost.
Internalise and institutionalise good principles
Former Finance Minister Amos Kimunya once swore he would rather die than resign; Anne Waiguru stuck to her guns until she realised she was standing on sinking ground; more recently, our IEBC Commissioners do not imagine they should simply resign because of public pressure and would even prefer going to jail. A lot of work needs to happen at individual and corporate levels to institutionalise good governance.
To help us entrench good governance and the rule of law, the Constitution provided for establishment of oversight institutions, which include the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, Commission on Administrative Justice (Office of the Ombudsman), Judicial Service Commission, and Offices of the Auditor-General and Controller of Budget, among others.
One major challenge that has come to the fore through the work of these constitutional bodies is that we, as a country, are confronted by institutionalised impunity. Various reports by the Controller of Budget indicate the new bosses in town, Members of County Assemblies (MCAs), have spent billions of shillings on local on foreign travels in total disregard of the limits prescribed by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission.
Consequently, development projects have suffered as MCAs redirect monies to satisfy their personal interests. It’s no wonder, there are more people gearing to contest for the MCA slots in the next general election. With that as motivation, we should not expect much from the next lot of MCAs.
The Office of the Ombudsman has also afforded us opportunities to have a glimpse of challenges that characterise public service. The office has so far handled over two hundred complaints against public institutions in just four years. Whereas this may show the public is embracing the instruments provided in the Constitution as well as increasing faith in such oversight bodies, it also points to the rot there is in public institutions. The much publicised case of Liza Catherine Mwangi, a victim of police torture, may illustrate this point. Ms Mwangi was tortured by police so that she could give information regarding an alleged criminal they were pursuing. She went to Court to seek redress and was eventually given an award of Sh7 million in damages. But even justice was finally dispensed, the institutions responsible did not make the payment, so that the Office of the Ombudsman had to go to Court, years later, to seek orders to require compliance.
When impunity is deeply rooted in every sector in our country, it needs to be dealt with across the board. This cannot be done by a few individuals or offices. We are in dire need of men and women who can be trusted to steer our country forward to enable us realise the ideals espoused in our Constitution. We need them in the two houses of Parliament and in the County Assemblies. We also need them in constitutional commissions and offices, and in all our public institutions. Above all, we need to inculcate the culture we desire in our homes to secure the future of our country.
Writer is a communications practitioner; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org