Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Ndegwa Commission was wrong

The Ndegwa Commission was wrong; civil servants should not run private businesses nor trade with any government ministry, department or agency. The Salaries and Remuneration Commission is useless; staff rationalisation should have been completed a long, long time ago and the size of the public payroll curbed at a manageable number. These two reforms are crucial to tackling official corruption.

Two cases come to mind. Philip Kinisu was a shareholder and director of a company that did business with the National Youth Service, and was paid millions of shillings in tenders that had been challenged by the Auditor-General for their authenticity. Mr Kinisu denied any wrongdoing even though the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, which he chaired, was in the middle of an investigation of the tenders awarded by the NYS.

In another case, a company connected to the relatives of the President has been embroiled in a scandal regarding the irregular awarding of tenders and irregular payments made to the company. Now it might be that Mr Kinisu's company and this other company have operated within the strict confines of the law, have broken none of the rules or regulations of public procurement and are otherwise operating at the highest levels of integrity. That is no longer enough. Kenyans believe, rightly or wrongly, that civil servants are rent-seeking quick-fingered crooks, using their offices to benefit themselves at the expense of their fellow Kenyans, their government and their country's interests.

Civil servants are too many and too many of them run businesses that are inherently in conflict with the interests of their ministries, departments or agencies. The Salaries and Remuneration Commission tied itself in knots trying to justify the continued Ndegwa-Commission-era sanctioning of civil servants engaged in private businesses. Coupled with its failure to persuade the national and county governments to take the unpopular decision of firing redundant civil servants has meant that graft will not begin to be tackled with the seriousness it deserves.

Corruption has become a runaway problem. There too many civil servants and too few officers tasked with policing their behaviour to prevent acts of corruption among them. Therefore, if the staff rationalisation programme commenced by the SRC is complete, it should be implemented quickly and humanely. A reduction in the size of the public service coupled with the use of digital human resource tools such as the the payroll management software used by the national public service will go a long way in keeping track of what public officers get up to in their duties.

The more critical reform will be the reversal of the Ndegwa Commission's recommendation that civil servants should be allowed to run businesses. Public officers, their immediate relatives (parents, siblings, spouses, children) shouldn't do business with the Government. The businesses "associated" with public officers and their immediate relatives shouldn't do business with the Government. The development of rules to determine the degree of "association" between public officers, their immediate relatives and businesses should sharpen blunt edges of this broadsword ban. In this way, mealy-mouthed and lawyerly explanations about directorships and shareholdings will be reduced significantly.

As it is, because of the Ndegwa Commission's recommendations, too many public officers suffer great conflicts of interest that are difficult to determine simply because of the truly lax implementation of the rules. How Mr Kinisu believed that he did not suffer any conflict of interest when the NYS investigation was unfolding beggars belief. How a company associated with the president's close relatives won a tender that has come into question and the more obvious conflict-of-interest questions not been asked is telling in and of itself. I am sorry; you may have a right to do business, but the government doesn't have to do business with you, especially if it will continue to compromise the integrity of the public service.

It is time that public officers, their immediate relatives and businesses (including corporations) were banned from doing business with the Government. If a public officer is so obviously talented as to make millions of shillings as a businessman trading with the Government, he is equally talented to make the same millions trading with the private sector. If he desires to continue in a business relationship with the Government, he can do so as a private citizen, competing on an equal footing with the rest of the private sector. The reversal of the Ndegwa Commission's recommendation in regard to civil servants doing business with the Government is the first step towards sorting out the corruption mess we find ourselves in.

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