By Edwin Musonye
One great wrong in modern Kenya is the sustenance of the permanent and pensionable employment contracts in public service. This practice undermines the principles of equity and equality, given that some citizens are favoured to earn from taxes whilst the rest are only destined to pay those taxes.
In the early times following independence, the allocation of the jobs was based on attainment of formal education. And because only few people had such a qualification, most citizens were recruited directly from school under the Africanisation programme, to fill positions left vacant by the colonialists returning home.
Unfortunately, the Africans who took up the offices also took up the colonialists’ mind-sets and attitudes. They assumed a superiority status given that they had been employed on basis of being the “most educated”. Their obligation was not so much to serve as to lord it over people. Interestingly, with all their faults, the outgoing Britons left behind a very strong economy that concealed the incompetence of the incoming Africans. However, after two decades, the Kenyan technocrat – despite speaking a lot of English – failed to deliver progressive value.
To worsen the situation, a political decision was made to allow the fruitless civil servants to engage in business because it became increasingly difficult to pay them well – this is the point at which, in the private sector, people get laid off. But these “important” Kenyans were given other avenues instead.
We may lament that politicians exploit us, but the real exploiters are civil servants. Whereas, members of parliament swallow up 5 percent of the Sh650 billion public payroll, we normally terminate their contracts every five years. Civil servants go on until retirement.
To solve this inequity, the public jobs should be availed on a rotation basis in which qualified citizens serve for a term of not more than five years, at which point the jobs are re-advertised and preferences given to those who are qualified but have either: (i) never worked in government at all or (ii) haven’t worked there in the recent past.
This system will bring about several benefits. First, it will allow the young Kenyans to access the job market and acquire the elusive experience demanded by the same non-retiring senior officials. Once they get the chance, they can also save some of their income and use it to starting a business when contract ends.
Secondly, those with the opportunity to work in public service will become more sensitive to the people they serve since they’ll only be there for a short while., and won’t get to the level of overstaying and becoming too comfortable as to become complacent.
Thirdly, the populace will eventually obtain a higher civic understanding of how government works and can offer informed suggestions and opinions on how to improve systems and practices. The government has remained a secretive organisation even under the values of openness and accountability. A public that has been kept in the dark can hardly question anything regardless of its education level.
Fourthly, people will acquire a higher sense of patriotism and confidence in participating in national dialogues. In other words, they’ll not feel too inadequate to demand for accountability and better service since they are part of the system.
Fifthly, such an arrangement would reduce the tension associated with rampant favouritism, nepotism, and tribalism in public service staffing practices. As well, tribal politics may fade away since all citizens would be getting a fair chance to earn and serve. For instance, the desperation witnessed when the police and military are recruit is demeaning and dehumanising; it would greatly reduce.
Sixthly, the public service will get an opportunity to access new ideas. As currently constituted, it is a closed door organisation with no known process of communicating with the public. Emails and telephone calls go unanswered. The contemporary practice in many public offices is to acknowledge receiving your query or concern and say that they’ll get back to you – but that is where it ends.
Seventhly, it will curb the burgeoning payroll. Employees who have served for longer periods often demand more wages even when working in the same job group or level with newly-recruited ones. Even more prudent, the ever accruing pension obligation will be controlled and thus save the exchequer billions in recurrent pay-outs.
Eighthly and lastly, it will curtail corruption. To understand how government works to the level of planning to steal takes many years. It’s not easy for those employed on termed contract to plan, execute and conceal theft of public resources as it is for those who have been entrenched in the system.
The selfishness in the current arrangement is observable in the many cases in which one family may have several of its members working in the government whilst their discriminated neighbour – at times with similarly educated children – fails to get such a chance. Consider this: two Kenyans with equal competence; what openly known criteria determines who is chosen into public service and who is left out?
All is not lost though; giving credit where it’s due, the Huduma Centre and e-government platforms are novel innovations from the public service. Again, lately, there has been a trend to recruit senior government officials on limited term contracts. This is applied mainly to head of agencies and state corporations. Notwithstanding, the same has not been replicated to lower cadres.
There is room to reduce abject poverty and inequality, without converting into Communism, through giving preference to qualified Kenyans from families who have none of their members in public employment before considering those who are already advantaged. Serving one’s country should be a right, not a privilege.
Thus, despite the establishment of numerous commissions and agencies to push for equitable and access to public resource and opportunities, entrenched historical traditions are still being practiced. Bodies such as the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, Commission on Revenue Allocation, the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, Rights and Equality Commission, and Public Service Commission itself, have preferred to look the other way and pretend that all is well in national wealth sharing. (