By Mohamed Haji:
Corruption which in big part involves the stealing of public money and/or property manifests itself in many ways, shapes and forms. The devastating effect and many forms of this vice have been covered by newspapers and other news outlets and discussed in detail in opinion articles. Today I would like to address some seemingly subtle forms of this dangerous trade.
Elected and appointed officials vote themselves exorbitant salaries the country can ill-afford. For example our parliamentarians earn more than the Prime Minister of Sweden. The Swedish Prime Minister earns a monthly salary of 1.5 million shillings. A Swedish member of parliament earns sh64,700 a month including allowances. A member of parliament in Kenya earns a monthly salary of 1.7 million, 200k more than the Swedish Prime minister, a country about 49 times richer than Kenya! In living cost terms, it will cost about 20,000 shillings less to buy a car in Kenya than in Sweden. Our mps will spend more than 2500 less in fitness clubs (this is the stuff of the empty rich and the elites). If say an mp was to rent 3 bedrooms in the city centre he or she will spend about shillings 19,000 less than a Swedish mp. What then justifies the Kenyan mp’s expensive salary?
President Uhuru said the government cannot pay for the teacher’s salary increase. On average a teacher earns shillings 20,000 and are much more productive than members of parliament but since we are an aristocracy and the MPs are at the rank of the landed gentries, their productivity is not put to the test. What value does a Kenya member of parliament add to our collective progress? They allegedly mismanage the CDF on top of their exorbitant salaries. In fact they are a net loss to the country. MPs often quote unofficial expenses such as contributions at fundraising and funerals to justify their expensive salaries. However this is in itself a form of corruption.
Put it another way, a country 49 times richer than Kenya pays its CEO the same salary a poor County pays its Governor. When I asked a governor why and how they can justify to pay themselves all this money from the peanuts sent by the national government as devolved funds, he said ‘’all the employees of the counties from the tea girl to the executive member asks for a bottomless salary and it is inconceivable to pay the governor the same salary as his minister’’! We all know that what I would spend in Nairobi is not the same as what I would spend in Wajir, Isiolo, Garissa, Mandera or Marsabit. So why would we pay a CEC in Wajir, for example, the same salary of a CEC in Nairobi? Someone once said it is because they have the same job group! The elites who rule the roost often put up the tired cliché that we must pay for talent. I thought this was a euphemism for ‘we ought to pay for greed’.
Our counties do not enjoy the same resource pool other more endowed counties do. It is simply a race to the bottom but boils down to the ‘US’ ,the employed and the employer (public) to look at this salary/allowance craze afresh, re-gauge our greed and agree on what exactly a CEO, a CEC or a Tea girl needs to comfortably sustain him/herself. I would think this is one important challenge that should form a fundamental policy issue in the coming elections. In the meantime this is one form of insidious albeit subtle form of corruption euphemistically named a wage bill that the powers that be are giving the nod and wink.
Wastage which is a form of corruption is coupled with incompetence and carelessness. There was an incident where 3 CECs from a poor county were travelling to Nairobi, attending the same meeting with the same meeting schedule but each coming with the assigned gas guzzler. They had an option to travel together using one single car at least for efficiency savings. The fuel these guzzlers are galloping and the resultant cost of the wear and tear of the cars making these unnecessary journeys is paid from our devolved funds. Apparently the wanton wastage did not matter to them. This is a form of corruption and both those making these journeys and their bosses signing away these expenses are in the same boat.
There is also duplication of roles where we have a role named directors when we have a CEC and a CO for example. I think we are emulating the wrong government. We have small populations, smaller budgetary resources and responsibilities and intrinsically different governing system but uncritically copying the national government structure or other grander county governments or even trying to implement optional clauses in the constitution not because of a desire to implement the constitution but because of political expediency which is a crime against the poor.
Corruption also raises its ugly head when you look at recruitment. Methinks County governments have erred in the recruitment of its senior staff. There is a problem of ghost workers who are used to siphon millions of money. In one of the counties there was a recent talk of redundancies. A closer look reveals that there will be no redundancies in the main because there are dozens ghost workers whose pay goes to one or two personal accounts. The whole exercise of redundancies appears to have been devised just to safe face as the ghost-workers scheme cover would have been busted.
There is also the incompetency challenge. If you observe carefully, both employees and recruiting officers are concerned about the recruitment of sub-standard staff in all departments. Corruption pervades all departments they complain.
One County which in both perception and reality comes top in comparison to the other two in the Northern region signed a performance contract with CECs. A good step in the right direction albeit too late in the day but performance contracts make sense when the competencies of the signatories are ascertained before hiring them. Signing performance contracts when one has already hired personnel whose competencies are in question, qualifications are wanting and were hired not because of know-how but because of know-who, the contract becomes nothing but one of political expediency and cheap public relations exercise. Besides, who monitors the performance of the contracted? The same ‘employer’ using the same lens that brought in the same employee. A viscous circle!
Devolution gave us a clean slate upon which we could write clean contracts in every sphere of work related performances, service oriented tendencies and need prioritization-resource allocation competencies. It appears we lost this opportunity as greed and political considerations took over. In some quarters they claimed Counties of the North’s desire to employ competent staff is further challenged by the tricky clan balancing scheme but this is as redundant as it can get. There is always a pool of competent staff to select from but the consideration may be one of political expediency, nepotism and allegedly money exchanging hands.
What is the way forward? Unfortunately we cannot legislate against inherent characters and cultures but we can elect honest people to manage our affairs. It begins with the individual and ends with the community. Genuine fear of the creator is the best way out of this. The fear of Allah should not only manifest itself in the elected but most importantly in the electorate. If we elect officials because of lineage considerations, political bribery or other artificial worldly choices and not because of the character and competencies of the individual, we will share in every vice of omission or commission the elected official partakes.
This places the greatest responsibility of managing society’s affairs on the shoulders of the voters. If when we are presented an opportunity to employ/elect those who will manage our socio-political and economic affairs, we lower the bar and indulge their bribes or look at kinship and sweep the all important factors of character and competence under the carpet, we will have no reason to cry fire when the kitchen is burning and the county coffers are empty.
Haji comments on Social matter and is a Nepjournal columnist. Follow him on twitter @MWhaji