Public sector yearning for radical reforms

President Uhuru Kenyatta recently announced the appointment of former Vice President Moody Awori to head the Youth Sports Fund. Mr Awori is 91 years old, while the formal definition of “youth” in Kenya puts an upper limit of 35 years. Following criticism from the public, Kenyatta argued that the appointment of Awori was motivated by the need to shield the fund from thieving younger appointees. This is stunning.

Uhuru admitted that his administration – from the Treasury through to the Police Service – are not in a position to stop corruption in the public sector. Forget the Integrated Financial Management System, forget all the money we are spending on the EACC, forget the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. All that is wasted money. Most publiccommentary focused on the irony of Awori’s appointment to head an outfit catering to the youth. Many of the criticisms focused on opportunity, arguing the president should not be rewarding individuals who have been part of the public sectorsince independence; but should instead give opportunities to the youth.

Godfathers

It is telling that the focus was largely on “opportunity.” The use of the word betrays our collective perception of the publicsector. We see appointments to positions in the public sectoras opportunities – to make money illicitly, to employ our co-ethnics, and to serve our political godfathers. We seldom see these appointments as a responsibility to serve.

SEE ALSO :Kiswahili-speaking US ambassador McCarter turns to Sheng to fight graft

And therein lies the problem. In appointing a 91-year-old to office, what does Kenyatta intend to signal with regard to the work required in the position? What does this tell us about how much effort the president expects from the Youth Sports Fund? Other than having a famous last name, what does the appointee know about such a fund? Running a government is hard work. In saner countries, public servants put in long hours of work and are monitored against preset and publicly-known yardsticks.

This creates incentives for individuals to put in a significant number of hours – with the knowledge that their work will be rewarded, in terms of pay increases but also from the satisfaction of knowing that each minute of work will shift the bottom line and improve citizens’ lived experience. But if, beginning with the appointment of senior government officials, the message appears to be that working hard matters little, we should not be surprised that very few people actually do the work.

If we are honest, we must admit that the public sector has become a sinecure in need of radical reforms. Unfortunately, many of our leading politicians have very little interest in properly governing. Their idea of government is speaking at events, dancing on podiums, giving handouts and being adored by erstwhile sycophants.

For the record, this is no way to govern a modern nation state. We need systems that work for us. We need skilled, accountable, and responsive publicsector workers. We need politicians who understand their role as custodians of our collective destiny, and who are willing to make the investments (in time and treasury) to secure a better future for our people.

In his speech, the president insisted that he wants a just Kenya. It would be helpful if he put our public resources where his mouth is. Having admitted that there is rampant theft by those he has appointment to senior positions in government, what is he doing about it?

SEE ALSO :I run the government when Uhuru is away, Ruto tells critics

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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President Uhuru KenyattaMoody AworiYouth Sports Fund