Sunday, December 18, 2011

Free the Service

President Jomo Kenyatta was wrong when he initiated the politicisation of the civil service. When the Head of the Civil Service, Amb Francis Muthaura was indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and gross violation of human rights, the process that had been initiated by Kenya's founding president had come full circle. Today, it is not possible to look at the work of civil servants without wondering aloud whether they are motivated by political considerations. The effects of the politicisation of the civil service have included a perception that none of them is to be trusted with tax-payers' monies. Ever.

When Hassan Omar Hassan, a Commissioner in the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Chairman of the National Police Service Commission Selection Panel, published an Op-Ed piece in the Standard on Sunday two weeks ago where he stated that in all likelihood Kenyans would not elect another Kikuyu as president of Kenya, he revealed the state to which the politicisation (and ethnicisation) of the Civil Service had reached. Since President Kenyatta's 'reforms' - reforms designed to create a loyal and pliant Service - all three of Kenya's presidents, including President Kibaki, have had an interest in who the men (and women) appointed to senior positions in the Civil Service will be, and very strong ideas about what they can and cannot do. So too has Prime Minister Odinga (the recent High Court ruling that the Prime Minister's former advisor on coalition affairs was not a civil servant is telling). Thanks to the machinations of the presidents and senior politicians, the Civil Service is no longer seen as a means for the government to deliver essential services to the people, but a tool for prolonging the power of the incumbents at the expense of basic freedoms and human rights.

Mr Hassan raised pertinent questions (which he failed to answer) in his article. The effect on the morale of the rank-and-file members of the Service has been pernicious. Many are unwilling to go the extra mile in service to the people, arguing that their hard work will hardly be rewarded or that all the glory for their successes will be hogged by an elite few who enjoy the patronage of powerful ministers, or the President himself. The myriad scandals and failures of governance can be laid at the feet of these policies, such as they are, of ensuring only 'loyal' men and women hold positions of power or responsibility in the Government of Kenya.

In 2010, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission published a report that demonstrated that presidential decisions had ensured that one or two ethnic communities dominated the Civil Service, directing public resources to areas based not on need, but political expediency. As a result, communities that are not adequately represented in the Service have suffered from poor resource-allocation or development. The calls for 'regional balance' have grown louder. This explains why appointments to the various Commissions created by the Constitution must today include a need to enquire into the ethnicity of the members of the Commissions, in addition to their professional and other qualifications. Competence, sometimes, is sacrificed to the need to regionally balance these appointments, the effect being that Kenyans may not get the best or brightest to serve them.

One of the results of the ratification and promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 is that post-2012, Kenyans may yet get a government that is largely made up of technocrats, answering only to the President and Deputy President. But the lesson taken away from the fiasco of appointing Commissioners so far is that the political class, whether in the National Assembly, the Senate or the 47 County Governments, will go to all lengths to ensure that only 'their' people are appointed, to keep the pork flowing into their ethnic or political constituencies. The challenge of de-politicising the Service, or even its de-ethnicisation, will be greater than was the challenge of adopting a new Constitution. It is incumbent that even with the less-than-untainted Commissions, Kenyans maintain a heightened level of vigilance to ensure that the Service serves all Kenyans, and not the partisan and narrow interests of a group that has time and again disappointed so greatly in the past. It is time to free the Service.

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