Ensure tribal balance in public service to improve performance

Tribalism has negatively impacted every sphere of development in Kenya. It is a major stumbling block to democracy as well as socio-economic development. [iStockphoto]

The Office of the Auditor-General recently disclosed that 46 per cent of the Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH) workforce is from one ethnic community.

The Auditor-General also, in a separate report, also indicated that 5,496 of the County Government of Nairobi’s 11,926 employees are from one community, representing 46 per cent of the total workforce.

Another report from the Auditor General to Parliament in December 2021 revealed that 35 per cent of employees at Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) are from one ethnic community in breach of a legal requirement for diversity in the sharing of jobs in public service institutions and State-owned firms. The report showed that the Mijikenda ethnic community had 2,274 out of 6,470 workers at the State agency.

The findings on KUTRRH were also contained in a report of the Auditor-General given to Parliament. It revealed that 285 of the hospital’s 608 employees are from one tribe, representing 46 per cent of the jobs. A tribe is a group of people within a geopolitical region with common ancestry.

These breaches are not unique to KUTRRH, City Hall and KPA as there have been previous reports on the dominance of certain ethnic communities in the workforce of some public sector organisations. In the past, public universities have also been indicted for employing a majority of their staff from their local communities which fuels tribalism. It leads to exclusion of deserving citizens from other tribes because Kenya is an ethnically diverse country that is comprised of over 40 ethnic groups.

Despite having provisions in the Constitution and the regulations of the National Cohesion and Integration (NCI) Act, 2008, public sector institutions still fail to adhere to the laws. The NCI Act, 2008 prohibits a single community from occupying more than a third of employment positions in State-owned firms. Section 7(1) and (2) of the Act states that all offices shall seek to represent the diversity of the people of Kenya in the employment of staff and that no public institution shall have more than one-third of its staff from the same community. The Constitution requires state offices to factor in the balance of gender, ethnicity, persons with disabilities, minorities and the marginalised.

Such breaches give rise to unethical conduct including nepotism, favouritism and discrimination. Failure to strictly impose the requirements has led to a skewed distribution of employment opportunities in public institutions and the marginalisation of some Kenyans. When employment is skewed in public institutions along tribal lines, with members of certain ethnic communities being given priority over others, effective performance of duty becomes elusive since tribalism affects work ethics. It is inimical to the dream of having a professional public service in the country.

There is no doubt that tribalism has negatively impacted every sphere of development in Kenya. It is a major stumbling block to democracy as well as socio-economic development.

Tribalism is responsible for a lot of ills in Kenya including underdevelopment, corruption, rigging of elections and violence/civil war. In terms of employment, people are given jobs based on tribe even when they have low qualifications, hence the inefficient use of available skills. Education, therefore, lacks meaning. Bad governance and lack of accountability have also been linked to tribalism as people do not question a government run by their tribesmen.

In a bid to stem the vice, some organisations and individuals who champion public interest have instituted legal cases in court to remedy the situation but such actions cannot address the problem fully. One case was successfully litigated and the court ruled in favour of the applicants in September 2021. High Court judge Nzioki wa Makau found that it was unconstitutional for the government to appoint Mary Waithigieni Chege, Zachariah Karenge Mungai and Ronald Ndirangu Ndegwa as members of the Nairobi Metropolitan Transport Authority (Namata) Board, citing ethnic dominance.

The judge directed that the three appointees should cease holding their positions. He found the appointments had disregarded the national values espoused in the Constitution. Although some progress has been made using litigation to fight tribal appointments, there is a need for the Public Service Commission to enforce the regulations in public institutions to ensure that appointments at all levels bear the face of Kenya ethnically.

Aside from the litigation, the Public Service Commission strongly recommended that public institutions develop and implement affirmative action programmes to redress gender, ethnicity and PWDs gaps in its annual report released in December 2021.

The public institutions affected by imbalances in ethnic representation are to implement affirmative action programmes on ethnicities as required by Section 10 of the Public Service (Values and Principles) Act, 2015. The Commission conducted the survey in all public institutions out of which 426 responded, representing 84 per cent.

For the recommendations to be implemented fully, PSC has to put in place working monitoring systems to ensure that there is full adherence by public institutions. A fully efficient and professionally ethical public service will be realised only when the affected public institutions ensure that all the appointments represent the face of Kenya.