By Odongo Peter
Debate has been raging in the recent past on whether employers, both public and private, are justified in demanding that potential employees accompany their applications with a host of statutory clearances or compliance certificates as a precondition for being shortlisted for any job opportunity. This debate has been with us for some time now. It’s more recent resuscitation was occasioned by the decision by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) to do away with the requirement that its members seeking to represent lawyers in various constitutional and statutory bodies must get clearance from such bodies as the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Higher Education Loans Board, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Credit Reference Bureau, among others. The move was a result of an outcry following the decision by KRA to deny Prof. Tom Ojienda tax compliance certificate as part of the documents he needed to defend his seat at the JSC.
This debate on statutory clearances for employment is a healthy one and it should be encouraged, not least in the wake of what appears to be renewed and reenergised vigour in the fight against corruption. Some suggest that this move paves the way for all manner of crooks to operate within, represent and thrive within the society.
It would appear that these requirements are meant to discourage would-be dishonest applicants. However, they come with problems of their own.
Heavy burden on job seekers
For starters, they place a heavy burden on the shoulders of millions of unemployed youth looking for employment. Sourcing these documents is not only expensive, it is also time consuming. What’s more, many are forced to part with bribes if only to obtain them. For a government that purports to operate on a digital platform, physically sourcing and delivering these documents makes little sense.
Secondly, even in the case of the privileged employed like Prof. Ojienda, obtaining and producing these documents may be used as a means of perpetuating impunity and harassment. There are many institutions that deduct yet fail to remit taxes. It’s the employee that suffers when the law goes full cycle. Furthermore, in a country seriously lacking in the ability of proper record maintenance, finding crucial documents could still be as difficult for the employed as it is for the starter
It is time we intensified this debate. These requirements are a nuisance, to put it mildly. The government should have better ways of identifying citizens with one or two compliance issues and process them according to applicable laws instead of waiting for such citizens to seek the said clearances for the government to discover and pounce on them. If one is a tax cheat, the government should prosecute them as they lose their jobs. It may be justifiable to deny one a loan facility on account of an outstanding default on another loan. But to deny one an opportunity to even apply for a job just because he has defaulted on a loan is to be utterly ridiculous. It is an eternal punishment.
The National Assembly must immediately step in and amend all laws that require these clearances as a precondition for employment. A better option would be for the hiring institutions, both public and private, to begin excluding such requirements from the list of conditions to be met by potential employees. It is time to unchain the unemployed youth looking for employment and to unburden Kenyans looking for better opportunities. The government must stop its love for surveillance, regulation and policing at the expense of service delivery to its citizens. (