Reins in Kenya’s grand government

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Reins in Kenya’s grand government


President Uhuru Kenyatta chairs a recent cabinet meeting. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The notion of a professional civil service made up of technocratic employees serving bipartisan interests died many years ago.
  • We spend more of our available resources on managing and circulating existing wealth than on activities that create new wealth.
  • Parliament, the judiciary, the presidency and district governments were massively expanded.

What type and shape of civil service workforce are we likely to see after President Uhuru Kenyatta leaves the scene, given the way party coalitions are forming?

Judging by the trends and political formations, it seems to me that the system and practice of appointing top officials, chief secretaries and directors of important semi-state companies through patronage is likely to be solidified by the outcome of the August elections.

We could end up with too many chief secretaries and principal secretaries. Political toleration comes at a high price. It’s a worrying prospect because the hog keg policy has had a corrosive impact on public service effectiveness.

The notion of a professional civil service made up of technocratic employees serving bipartisan interests died many years ago.

We have to pray that we don’t end up with a bigger government after August. I say this because we already spend a disproportionate share of tax revenue on the political sector and related institutions.

If you analyze the spending patterns of the budget that Finance Minister Ukur Yatani will present to Parliament next week, the picture emerges of a country that is spending a disproportionate share of tax revenues on salaries and debt servicing compared to operating and maintaining the service.

And we have a capex budget well below what we spend on recurring expenses.

In other words, we spend more of our available resources on managing and circulating existing wealth than on activities that create new wealth.

The government has clearly grown too big. Parliament, the judiciary, the presidency and district governments were massively expanded. We have too many ministries, foreign ministries, and charter and constitutional commissions staffed by highly paid bureaucrats.

Another big consumer of resources is the category known as Constitutional Fund Services – money spent on debt servicing and constitutional official salaries.

Consolidated Fund Services consume too much money. We pay dearly for the rapid accumulation of expensive trade debt on our books. And we face the specter of a pension bomb.

In the third category of large resource consumers of the new public spending program, Mr. Ukur Yatani will introduce his autonomous government agencies, such as public universities, publicly funded research institutes and regional authorities, to parliament next week.

It is indeed a paradox that our universities are broke and insolvent even though we spend billions on public universities. University employee pension plans are among the largest in the retirement industry.

Yet literally all have accumulated huge unpaid liabilities and ended up creating huge actuarial gaps. The universities simply do not pay out the pension deductions in a timely manner. The constituency development fund also ranks high among the major resource consumers.

I’m waiting to hear a presidential candidate promise to restructure the civil service, reduce the number of departments and departments of state, and reorganize government around some core functions. Today the civil service is full of people who owe their jobs to politicians and those in power.

The civil service bureaucracy is overpopulated with the private sector’s so-called technocrats – individuals who parachute into the system to fill high-profile positions, particularly in the cadre of chief secretaries.

The Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development has a total of five chief secretaries. And it comes with expensively carpeted offices and fuel-guzzling monsters.

When you stuff public service bureaucracy with too many private sector folks to swallow what business school clouds call esprit de corp, you’ve created a perfect environment for bureaucratic lethargy.

In the longer term, we must engage in aggressive public service reform. Our goal must be to restore a non-partisan and professional civil service.

About Sonia Martinez

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