Thursday, July 23, 2020

It's time to read the Kenya Gazette, friend

One of the most difficult things for a legislative drafter is to push back against over-eager senior civil servants who believe things that don't exist. Every time I see Gazette Notice No. 2356 of 2017, also known as the plastic bag ban, I can feel the hairs at the back of my neck rise because I know how the poor drafter who was forced to clear that document feels. It is one of the most destructive Notices published by the Government - not because it bans single-use plastic bags of various descriptions (we all accept that as a good thing) but for encouraging Judy Wakhungu's successors in the taking of statutory shortcuts regardless of the legislative mess they leave in their wake.

Of the more destructive officials are to be found the ones who flit from one bad idea to the next without pause, upending decades of legislative-drafting consensus on what the State can and can't do through subsidiary legislation. In many cases, you will be witness to personal and private agendas masquerading as official government policy, the naked political ambition camouflaged by long-winded soliloquys on "national development" and similarly portentous and pretentious pablum. The latest, going by the high dudgeon one has occasioned, are "presidential directives", a catchall expression that implicates the Head of Government in schemes of doubtful economic and political value.

Distilling government policy is hard enough without inserting ill-advised legislative proposals in the mix. When Government settles on a policy, and the entire Cabinet is agreed on what that policy is, it isn't always an automatic outcome that legislation will be enacted to give effect to that policy. On many occasions, it is sufficient for the bureaucratic state to re-arrange budgets and programmes to incorporate the policies activities. Implementation of policy can sometimes turn on a re-deployment of personnel and the funds to go with such redeployment.

Every now and then, though, a new law or an amendment to an existing one is required. Care, though, is called for. New laws these days have a nasty habit of creating new offences. It doesn't pay to give the police, the DPP, the EACC and other law enforcement organisations fresh grounds for hounding Kenyans trying to make their way in an increasingly fraught world. New laws, also, seem to require further disbursements from the public purse, much to the chagrin of the mandarins of the National Treasury. The increasing number of "funds" is almost always a pointer to the increasing clout of individual mawaziri - the larger your share of the national revenue that you control, the more clout you wield among your Cabinet colleagues. New penal provisions and increased public spending occasioned by new laws point to policy failures that will only reveal themselves when it becomes clear that the new offences are a waste of law enforcement time and a drain on the national coffers for no discernible benefit.

Most of you live your day to day without having to worry about what is being cooked up by civil servants. Indeed, many of you don't really care for the contents of the kenya Gazette, published every single Friday by the Government Press. In my opinion, you must rouse yourselves from this slumber if you are to better understand why your Government does the things it does. When a Government department "supports" the manufacture of a "low-cost" motor vehicle that looks like it was put together in the dark with parts thrown out of one of this Kamukunji jua kali workshops, you can be sure that the mandate to support that project is hidden among the thousands of Notices published in the Kenya Gazette each year. But because you weren't paying attention, the announcement by department of Government that public monies will be spent on the equivalent of a mkokoteni with an engine comes as a bit of a shock.

It is time to accompany your anti-government anger with relevant information. Your first port of call should be the Government Press and the Kenya Gazette it publishes every week. What new agencies have been established? What new parastatal bosses have been appointed? What new task force has been convened? What new offences have been created? What new scheme are our taxes financing? All these questions, and more, are contained in the Gazette - if you only knew to read it and how to read it.

No comments: