By David Onjili
The enduring conflict for both retiring senior civil servants and politicians is to know when to hang up their boots by passing up on appointments. Sportsman Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, while announcing his retirement from basketball in 2016, said that he felt that he could no longer give the game anything more. Do politicians and civil servants ever feel this after decades of service?
China, a communist country offers an interesting view. The ideal is all about working for the revolution with their last breath and last drop of blood. This explains why retirement ages have been pushed from 65 years to 68, and why politicians in such a country do not retire – and when they supposedly do, they remain in power through their henchmen and proxies.
Zhou Xhiaochuan, the Chinese Central Bank Governor, was allowed to continue working past the retirement age of 68 years, so that he’d “continue to oversee the economic reforms he had initiated.” But, even as he got backing for the extension, still many others felt chance should have been given to others to get that state appointment. “Talent,” they charge, “emerges in every generation” and there is no need to extend his term.
Closer home, when former Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet’s four-year term at the helm of the police service ended on March 11, 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta immediately appointed him as the Cabinet Assistant Secretary in the ministry of Tourism. His predecessor, David Kimaiyo, upon his resignation in 2014, was appointed as chair of the Kenya Airports Authority board. Boinnet, a 56-year-old former intelligence officer who joined the police in 1984, continues his service without break.
To single out one man well aware that he has not reached the retirement age of public servants may appear malicious. But, it is the immediate appointment and acceptance of this post by not just him but many others that depicts a mentality of false entitlement amongst many politicians and civil servants. None or very few believe they need a breather to reflect on past service and recharge for a new challenge.
Retired chief justice Willy Mutunga is amongst a select few who will be remembered for declining a state appointment. After he began his first term, President Mwai Kibaki appointed him as the Vice Chancellor of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology, a position he readily turned down because “I have neither the expertise nor knowledge for the job.” Years later, he chose to go into early retirement as the Chief Justice of Kenya to pave way for the Judicial Service Commission to have ample time to shortlist, vet and appoint his successor as the country readied itself for the 2017 General Election.
These simple selfless acts have within a certain majesty that many others fail to see – who cling or on because such positions offer them a chance to extend patronage and pursue self-advancement at the expense of true service.
In May 2016, Francis Atwoli got re-elected to serve as Secretary-General to the Central Organization of Trade Union (COTU) for another five-year term. This is his fourth term in office. While his passion for workers’ welfare is not in doubt, what is it that he hasn’t done in close to two decades that he now intends to achieve? What fresh ideas and impetus do we expect from him? Why can’t he let go?
It is almost given that election losers, as long as they have their man in power, will get appointed into plum state jobs as ambassadors and board members of state corporation boards. But because they often are not qualified for the job, they almost invariably lack professionalism, skill and therefore cannot be expected to deliver.
The foundational character trait of the people in focus here is this: a false but enduring sense of entitlement; they flout traffic laws at will, demand to be given preferential treatment, and are too lazy to champion meaningful policy. Because they know they cannot hack it in public service delivery, they fear being ordinary citizens,
The temporary comfort these politicians and senior civil servants enjoy when they are in office blinds them to what is happening in the world around them. Because their state jobs can afford them a comfortable lifestyle, they jump at any and every opportunity to maintain it – often through impropriety.
Where are our Nelson Mandelas and Willy Mutungas – those who will come in, serve and leave with their heads held high and with solid legacies? (