Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The quality of state officials

It will not raise the quality of state officials. What? you may ask. The requirement that they must have a minimum academic qualification to hold elected office. Kenya is looking for the magic bullet that will guarantee its future as a stable polity and successful economy. That magic bullet is not an academically credentialled membership of its legislatures. It can't hurt, for sure, but it is not the panacea that we have come to believe it is. You only have to see the acrimonious mudslinging between two "professors" - one, a politically connected one and the other a US-based academic - to see that formal education, even university education, is no reason for men to be reasonable.

It is like the misleading proposal that the more we legislate "integrity" the better our chances of controlling graft. When "corruption" was punished under the Penal Code, there was rife corruption in Kenya. The situation did not end with the enactment of the Anti-corruption and Economic Crimes Act, the Public Officer Ethics Act, the Public Procurement and Disposal Act, the Public Finance Management Act or the Leadership and Integrity Act. What happened is what always happens in Kenya: the crooks got smarter, the law enforcement became poorer, the scams got bigger.

We assume that an educated Parliament, for example, will "read Bills and contribute meaningfully to parliamentary debate and pass laws that make sense." Obviously, that is not accurate. The majimbo Parliament may not have had as many university graduates as the post-KANU 10th Parliament, yet the 10th was incapable of solving some of our most intractable problems. Indeed, the 10th is notorious for making things worse. The quality of debate was abysmal and the plethora of new laws made things worse. Wit and wisdom were noticeably absent; no one had the surefootedness to pull off a Jean-Marie Seroney-like "You cannot substantiate the obvious."

Our problems do not stem from a lack of credentialled elected representatives capable of navigating the information age or the twenty-first century's challenges. Our problems stem from a leadership class that is more interested in self-aggrandisement than leading their constituents. It matters not whether leadership is in the public sector or the private sector, the principal aim of all Kenyan leaders is wealth accumulation at all costs. Few Kenyan leaders are interested in new ideas, or learning for the sake of advancing the knowledge base of the country. Now that scores of elected leaders are pursuing university degrees, I will wager that the outcome will not be better government.

The false narrative that MPs, Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, Governors, MCAs and the lot must be well-educate din order to lead forgets that they do not govern on their own. Government has a public service, and it is this public service that does the actual governing. Parliament and county legislatures need well-educated staffs. Without the lawyers, accountants, economists, and other policy professionals, even a well-educated MP is at sea on matters outside his professional competence. It is these professional civil servants who draw up policy papers, draft Bills, audit reports, financial statements, budget documents and the rest of it that MPs rely on to make laws or debate effectively.

I don't mean that MPs or similar state officers should be ignorant louts. I mean that they should be intelligent enough to consider the information at their disposal so as to make better decisions for the good of the nation. Intelligence is not always measured by the number of academic credentials one has acquired. There are senators who have recently graduated from university; no one is under any illusion that their relatively brand new academic qualifications will be used for the publication of better laws or for holding the national executive to account. 

Back to Jean-Marie Seroney; he was Martin Shikuku's contemporary. The former was a respected member of the Kenyan Bar while the latter did not seem to have been beyond secondary school. But between the two of them, the quality of debate in Parliament was the result of careful reasoning, innate intelligence, a capacity to read widely and an ability to consume complex information and process it quickly with a view to solving a problem. None of the current lot wants to solve problems other than the problem of their relative poverty.

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