The Star (Nairobi)

27 February 2013

Kenya: Are Kenyans Hopeless Employers?

Kenyans go to the polls to elect new leaders on Monday. Going by the record of the 10th Parliament, Star correspondent Muthende Nduucu is on a mission to find what ails Kenya's politicians. His diagnosis will perhaps help you choose leaders wisely.

The Pan African Parliament held its meeting in South Africa between October 8 and 19 last year. This is a continental body and one of the ten organs of the African Union. It was inaugurated on March 18, 2004 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Among the objectives spelt out in Article 3 of its protocol includes: one, encourage good governance, transparency, and accountability in Member states; and two, contribute to a more prosperous future for the people of Africa by promoting collective self-reliance and economic recovery.

The 58th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference had also taken place early September in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In both cases, delegates held brain-storming sessions with a view to finding solutions to the world's social, economic, and political woes.

Back home, the atmosphere was quite different. Our honourable MPs approved a mind-boggling severance package of Sh9.3 million each which was to be paid on January 15, 2013 when their term expires.

This item was not on the order paper, was not debated and was passed hurriedly at night. The following day Finance minister Njeru Githae was on air announcing new tax measures meant to raise an additional Sh40 billion revenue to fill the country's budget hole already created by the higher public wage bill occasioned by the doctors, teachers and lecturers revised emoluments after they had gone on strike.

The President declined to sign the Finance Bill 2012 which also contained this proclamation, terming it unconstitutional and unaffordable.

The drama continued, the MPs now claiming their constitutional rights were being violated. One accused the Executive of "playing politics with the image of the MPs", while another swore that, "the House will not approve the proposed VAT Act. It is that simple." The Act is aimed at bringing reforms to boost tax collection.

For the 222 members, this would have drained the treasury by a whooping Sh2.1 billion. Kenyans, many of whom live below the poverty line, reacted in words and deed.

The whole circus stank to high heavens. They could not believe their eyes and ears. It was a dirty scene, like those movies we are warned of in advance, that they may contain disturbing scenes.

The gluttonous quest for this winding-up allowance or golden handshake for what they perceive as deserved for an exemplary service to the voters , 24 hours a day with no weekends, only confirm what greed without borders looks like.

This extreme love for money is not only laughable and outrageous, but evil. As long as their pockets fill to the brim, tax collection improvements which in turn will take Kenyans livelihood to a higher scale can go to hell.

As long as their kingdom cometh, Kenyan's daily bread can also go to hell. And as long as they fleece the citizens, use the money during their campaign trails and return after being re-elected promising to offer remedy to all their ills, all is well with them.

Among the Kikuyu there is a saying that a hyena, however greedy, has never eaten its young ones. But in the Kenyan political jungle, this can happen.

The irony of it all is that outside the August House, the honourable members try to befriend the same people whose welfare they don't have at heart.

They seem to have rediscovered themselves and come out from long months of inertness. Suddenly they have found maps and paths leading to their constituencies and the remotest of locations.

They are now more interested in farmers and youth matters and their regions' poor infrastructure. They have recalled that churches, mosques, traditional dances, weddings and funerals are there to be attended by people.

They also appear to know occasionally which homesteads have children lacking school fees, going hungry or in need of medical care. It is as if they have seen the light on the road to Damascus.

Currently, they are amazingly visible. They mix freely with people, giving unsolicited handshakes, smiles and advice, and even lift in their cars.

And they can call you by your name. These leaders are now fully energised having climbed down from the mountain-top to ground zero for the vote-hunting season. Since the general election is a few days away, they have no choice but to have the problems of their subjects at their fingertips.

But the candidates are a worried group too. They are having sleepless nights especially after the party nominations bearing in mind that the political climate is unpredictable like never before.

The new Constitution has brought fundamental changes which will affect the way elections are conducted. There is also the transformed Judiciary and the Police Service which will keep a sharper eye on the whole process and the scare the ICC has given possible abusers of the law. And more importantly, these aspiring leaders will meet a new breed of enlightened voters. For them, things will never be the same again.

Kenyans, a hopeless employer?

Kenya is a medium-size country covering 580,000 km2 and a population of 40 million. It is endowed with enviable natural and human resources. Its people are among the most taxed in the world with remittances to the Kenya Revenue Authority hitting nearly Sh1 trillion annually.

Kenya has not had civil wars like countries such as Angola, Sudan or Mozambique. Nor has it experienced periods of great famines like Ethiopia. It has not undergone major natural disasters like earthquakes or floods. These are some of causes of underdevelopment.

Majority of our MPs are well educated, some with college and university qualifications. Apart from education, production is directly proportionate to employees' motivation.

The 222 MPs each earns monthly salary and allowances close to Sh1 million, most of it untaxed. Clearly, they earn more than those in developed countries like UK, Italy, France, and Sweden. The question is, what more would one ask from a struggling economy?

The 2010 and 2011 growth rates were 5.6 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively as per the World Bank report. The country was also ranked number 11 in GDP from the 52 African countries in 2010, behind Ethiopia and Sudan.

In the 2011 Corruption Perception Index, it was placed number 154 at 2.2 points, in the same position with Zimbabwe, Cote d'Ivoire, Congo Republic, Guinea-Bissau and the Central African Republic.

It is clear that five decades of independence has not seen proper management of food security, diseases, illiteracy, unemployment, and a host of other domestic issues.

The main problem thus lies squarely in the leadership. The Ghana-based Cida-funded Parliamentary Centre's Africa Programme did a survey between August 2010 and February 2011 and came up with an index measuring the level of engagement of select African Parliaments with the budget in their respective countries.

It found our 10th Parliament to be the most dishonest among the seven countries studied, and to have lost public trust because it lacks institutional integrity.

Like a surgeon who takes specimens from a sick person and does diagnosis, or does an operation in a theatre, it becomes necessary to dissect the political anatomy of our MPs and understand them better.

MPs: An attempt at a fair diagnosis

1. Social Phobia: This is the fear of meeting people. The moment they are elected to parliament, MPs develop an attitude of not wanting to mix with the people. They disappear from the electorate and go into hibernation. They become a rare commodity rarely seen in constituency offices and their frequent rendezvous becomes high-class hotels which are beyond the reach of the ordinary person. To see them, one has to make several trips from the countryside, look for accommodation in city hotels and book countless appointments.

2. Glossophobia: Once the parliamentary ticket is in the pocket, the once excellent orators become almost dumb. In those rare cases they appear in public, they become people of few words. In the House's debates and contributions, some have even been known to set records for not making their maiden speech for a full one year or more!

3. Chronophobia: It is the fear of time. That the time for elections is approaching or the next session of parliament is at hand gives them sleepless nights. The MPs are notoriously poor in time management, except when they want to increase their salaries. The numbers of times Bills have gone un-debated or un-passed because of lack of quorum in the House are too many to remember.

4. Appetite for money: Despite being amongst the best paid MPs in the world, they don't tire in proposing more increments in their salaries and allowances. Such are passed in record time by the full House. And sometimes they refuse to pay taxes. They don't stop there. Their eyes and ears work overtime in search of where government tenders or local projects are being undertaken just to try their luck in kickbacks. They develop itchy fingers and salivating mouths as they long to reach the country's coffers. No wonder, to serve two terms is enough to transform one into a multi-millionaire.

5. Kathisophobia: This is the fear of sitting down, or akathisia, the inability to remain motionless. They are restless people who cannot sit on a chair for long. Some therefore just make a technical appearance in parliament and take off. And it beats logic why they approved purchase of their chairs each worth Sh200, 000, which will rarely be used.

6. Hearts as hard as stones: Not only can they be poor finance managers, they at times can be inconsiderate and merciless. During the annual budget reading, allocation of funds is made to every sector of the economy to cover every part of the country. But come the end of the financial year and huge sums of money from ministries or constituencies will be returned to the treasury, leaving projects un-started or incomplete. In the meantime, economic hardships continue to maul people making one recall the stubborn Pharaoh as reports of lost billions under their watch continues to be unearthed.

7. Hypersomnia: This is a tendency to have excessive daytime sleepiness, called EDS. It is different from feeling tired due to lack of or interrupted sleep of last night. Our MPs have been captured by TV cameras napping and possibly snoring particularly in the afternoon. Well, medical experts say that after a heavy meal most blood leaves the brain and head to the gut to concentrate on more urgent work of digestion. It is also said an half-hour siesta after lunch at least thrice a week lowers risks of getting heart attack and reduce stress. Probably we cannot blame them considering the "heavy" workload upon their shoulders.

8. Experts in the art of forgetting: During the election campaigns the candidates will splash details of genuine problems facing the people. They will read manifestos indicating ways of reducing or eradicating them once they are elected, almost swearing. Of course most will be lies. But the next five years will see very little or nothing accomplished. Come next elections and the same MPs will be on platforms preaching the same gospel, almost word for word, making the same promises. Apparently they forget what they said first time.

What is the way forward?

The Economist magazine September 2010 edition ran an article where scientists observe genetic influence over "which jobs people choose, how satisfied they are with those jobs, how frequently they change jobs, how important work is to them and how well they perform (or strictly speaking, how poorly: genes account for over a third of variation between individuals in "censured job performance," a measure that incorporates reprimands, probation and performance-related firings)..... Ought employers to use genetic testing to select their workers?" Kenyan voters could ask the same question.

When a company appoints directors and majority of them drive it downhill it remains the onus of the shareholders to find out where the problem is: inadequate remuneration, sickness, laziness, senility, or funds mismanagement before they decide whether to reappoint or eject them in the next Annual General Meeting. A country too is like a company, with directors as its MPs and the electorate as the shareholders.

In short, either our leaders are never qualified for the job, not religious enough, or not patriotic. Since we cannot source leaders from another planet or perform DNA tests to know their qualities before-hand, the only choice left is to use the ballot more wisely like a matter of life and death.

To put more pressure on them to perform, demand more accountability, transparency, and respect of the rule of law. This is the only way the acquired inefficiency disease syndromes will be tackled. Kenyans have yet another chance through the ballot to decide who to bring on board on Monday. Vote wisely.

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