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Public sackings are abuse of power

By Alexander Chagema | March 24th 2016

One of the most unfortunate things an incumbent government can do going into an election year is antagonise the provincial administration, especially the chiefs and their assistants.

Notwithstanding that they serve at the base of the vertical leadership ladder, the immense value of this cadre of  leaders to the national government cannot be gainsaid.

There are no better grassroots mobilisers than chiefs and assistant chiefs; they interact with those they lead on a daily, even hourly basis.

Unlike senior government functionaries who profess their posh offices are open to the public yet in actual fact are as accessible as a military barracks is to civilians while they themselves are as fleeting as the moon is on an overcast night, chiefs are accessible day or night.

Often, their sleep is interrupted in the middle of the night to attend to emergencies, some as mundane as a couple fighting over food.

Sometimes last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta called a meeting with Members of Parliament from Central Kenya at State House Nairobi and gave an executive order that illicit brews which had turned youth and some adult married men in the region into vegetables be stamped out within two weeks.

Lo, and behold, the legislators took to the task with such pep it became a complete circus in no time. An opportunity had been availed to some of them to settle old scores.

So chaotic was the uncoordinated exercise that licensed beer brands from Kenya Breweries, the largest brewer in East Africa were mindlessly destroyed, occasioning a loss of millions of shillings.

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A local industry like Keroche breweries with a Sh1 billion investment and which employs locals and pays hefty taxes to the government was not spared the unwanted attention either.

In short, that exercise was a big flop. Brewers and drinkers have devised new ways to beat the government and they are doing a good job of it.

Where executive fiat, the national government and the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) failed, Internal Security Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho wants chiefs to succeed without fail.

And to make sure they feel the weight of his authority, he is on a spin, going around summarily sacking chiefs in whose areas illicit brews are found as he did in Laikipia and Kirinyaga Counties last week.

Kenya is a country governed by the rule of law and I doubt that the same laws give the PS powers to sack chiefs at public barazas in the most embarrassing, dehumanising and insensitive manner; no matter the provocation.

Such antediluvian antics hardly impress the public; they only serve to expose the sadistic deportment and the leadership calibre of a few individuals in influential positions; mesmerised by their own flighty authority.

In my calculation, this is a clear case of abuse of power that should not be left to just fizzle out as has so often been the case when leaders exceed their mandates and act ultra vires.

It is not unrealistic to expect that Mr Kibicho, by now, should be conversant with the law, especially on disciplinary procedures against errant public servants. He must also be apprised with a few salient facts about illicit brews and the way forward in tackling the menace.

First, the Government’s over-reliance on the provincial administration is taxing and should be scaled down.

A chief cannot be expected to be signing ID card application forms, writing out notifications for birth certificates, issuing burial permits, addressing barazas, resolving disputes among a host of duties and still find time to arrest brewers.

As a matter of fact chiefs do not have the powers to effect arrests. That power is vested with the police.

Lately there have been cases of chiefs being beaten, arrowed, killed or having their homes torched after chang’aa raids that renders them unpopular. Chiefs live among their people and since they don’t have personal security, become easy targets.

There are several key players who must synchronise their operations to give meaning and life to the fight against illicit brews.

These players are the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS), courts, Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Public Health officers, the police and the prosecution. If there is a weak link, or the chain is broken somewhere along the line, taking it out on chiefs is escapist and defeatist.

The power to licence bars and restaurants is a devolved function. To the county governments, they are a source of revenue, yet some of these establishments are outlets for illicit brews.

Chiefs can only enter licensed premises in the presence of an inspector of police in full uniform, a district health officer and officers from KRA and KBS. One wonders; do chiefs have the power and wherewithal to assemble this team at the drop of a hat?

It is also in the public domain that in many cases where liquor has been impounded by the police, it always finds its way back to the market.

Why then strain chiefs when emphasis should be on team work and carefully choreographed searches and raids?

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