Government is that hapless parent who gave up on rogue children

TED MALANDA |

Kisumu county staff on a permanent and contractual basis present their employment and qualification papers for scrutiny on May 23, 2018, during the headcount of employees.[Denish Ochieng,Standard]

As you read this, there is a government ghost worker someplace who, like everyone else, is complaining how times are tough and how difficult it has become to make ends meet on the miserly pay their employer scornfully doles out to workers.

Not surprisingly, the government has been unable to rout these ghosts from the payroll despite a series of headcounts over the years. You don’t smoke out a ghost using a headcount – you deploy witchdoctors, or miracle pastors, none of whom are, to the best of my knowledge, in government employ. Unless, of course, they are embedded in the system as ghost workers, which is also quite possible, too.

I don’t mind ghost workers though. They aren’t really that bad, because all they do is eat a small monthly salary. I also don’t mind actual government employees who only turn up to ghost around government premises, sniffing government oxygen, using the washrooms, engaging in gossip or selling mitumba and groundnuts to colleagues.

The ones we really should worry about are those who diligently turn up daily and work their socks off pretending to be government officers when the reality is that they are self-employed.

Each time I pull up at a police roadblock, I feel like breaking into laughter. There will be a government vehicle parked in a shed, with the gate-away driver briefly interrupting his sleep to swat noisy flies away from his mouth.

Occasionally, these roadblocks are manned by chief inspectors of police, highly educated, trained and ranking officers who are technically deputy police division commanders. Why these top guns deploy themselves to nab petty traffic offenders never ceases to tickle me. It is like a high school principal supervising cooks chopping beef into 50 cent coin-sized pieces.

Sometimes, the roadblocks are manned by both regular and administration police officers who can’t tell a bald tyre if it was shoved in their faces. How could they, yet they are not drawn from the traffic police division? It is like sending a history teacher to a physics class.

Watching them prance around – in government uniforms, on government time and payroll and with government firearms for protection – pretending to be performing government work is awfully funny.

More comical is that President Uhuru, Interior minister Fred Matiang’i, the Police Inspector General, the director of National Intelligence and everyone who matters is fully aware that you can get away with a half-skinned hyena strapped on your passenger seat at these roadblocks, but there is absolutely nothing government can do about it.

It is not just about the police. Thousands of government workers are thieves, potential thieves or close associates of well-known thieves. Thousands more engage in activities that would get them expelled from high school on day one, others belong in jail while there are those who will never see heaven – unless St Peter goes rogue and starts accepting bribes. And there is absolutely nothing the government can do about it – because you can’t send a thief to catch a thief.

I used to find this exasperating until it occurred to me that the government is like that parent who has lost all authority over the children. You know those families where the old man is a toothless figurehead? Fool issues orders and directions that the wife and children routinely ignore. Half the time, he has no idea where the wife and children are, or what they are up to. And the children, are they really his or they just ghost around his homestead with strange genes?

These are fathers who have resigned to fate. They have accepted that their children’s destiny is to be thieves and all manner of lawbreakers. They watch helplessly as the children turn into criminals who beat up people, stone the neighbour’s dogs and steal anything – from the family wheelbarrow to their own mother’s tattered petticoat. Anything to make money.

So, as you read this, hundreds, if not thousands of government officers are stealing, planning to steal or have just stolen from their employer. Thousands more are pocketing or soliciting for bribes and colluding with criminals to steal from the government or break the law.

The government knows this, but like that hapless parent whose rogue son keeps stealing his chicken, all it can do is shrug helplessly and mumble, “Si unajua hawa watoto wamenishinda haki!”

 

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