It is not once that I have counselled with young parents whose children have been thrown out of school due to huge fees arrears. Likewise, I have had to pray with various individuals over huge debts hanging over their necks. Many of these are often the result of unfortunate and unexpected job losses, collapsed business, or a departed income earner in the family.
These are realities of life that we are neither immune to nor can be blamed for. However, in some cases, the financial pain is self-inflicted, especially when a person insists on maintaining a costly lifestyle – for example, retaining children in costly schools in spite of changed financial circumstances. Many end up taking a loan to repay another loan and the cycle continues until there is nowhere to borrow from. Yet, such situations are avoidable if one downgraded their lifestyle.
This appears to be our story as a nation. The prolonged fights and broken promises over remuneration by lecturers, doctors, teachers, nurses, and several others, may well be strong indicators that our family could be living beyond its means.
We have inadvertently got back to the place where our neighbours – such as IMF and World Bank – have found opportunity to lecture us on how to run our house. At almost age sixty as an independent nation, it is embarrassing. But then, if you keep fighting with your children over food, and keep borrowing for basic necessities, your neighbour may feel obliged to offer a word or two. The sad reality is that we do not seem to appreciate our sad reality. And by “we” I here mean all of us, not just those in government. Two areas that seem to guzzle our resources are: exaggerated structure of government and corruption. Yet, to these two we appear verily committed, unwilling to make adjustments even if we are to borrow till death. That we bequeathed ourselves a behemoth in the new constitutional order is conclusively accepted by sober economic pundits. How a nation of forty million people ended up with 47 semi-autonomous “states” while the US with over 300 million has 59 similar states beats logic. Add to that the numerous Commissions – populated by former civil society players – and you have a government designed by the elite for the elite. They have since ensconced themselves into the place of comfort and won’t listen to voices of reason.
Our dullness of mind is verily exposed when, for example, there is a push for Parliament to amend laws so as to nominate more women MPs, ostensibly to meet the one-third gender requirement. Whereas no one can dispute the need for better gender balance, it cannot be at any cost. It may not be politically correct but, bad constitutional crafting should not be cured by increasing the number of MPs – the most expensive group of government employees, and most unreasonable in their financial demands.
Lost through corruption
Whereas the government must be commended for the austerity measures being taken to keep us afloat, the challenges confronting us are systemic. To pull through, we cannot merely make small tweaks here and there. Significant quantum leaps will only result from shifting the paradigms. We must take the painful but bold decision to restructure government and fight graft. For example, in the upcoming boundaries review, we cannot insist that every clan must have a county and sub-clan a constituency. Sobriety demands that we structure our nation into viable political and administrative units. A drastic review of commissions and rationalisation of salaries in the civil service – including those of political office holders – is inevitable. Serving in government should be about service to the people not securing the best paying job.
On corruption, statistics are clear: a significant proportion of government revenues is lost through corruption – up to one third, pundits estimate. Yet, when it comes to this matter, we shout loudest but mean little. We bribe our way into almost everything – having made corruption our way of life. A formula needs to be found for dealing a death blow to corruption. Perhaps a multi-sectoral anti-corruption authority should be set up. A hardnosed Kenyan should be appointed to run with it under the direction of the President – so that the buck stops where it should. Perhaps this could be Dr Matiangi’s next station of assignment.
- The writer is the Presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM).