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Task forces mask failures; here's how

Immediate former President Uhuru Kenyatta when he received a taskforce report on a review of power purchase agreements. [PSCU, Standard]

Ross Perot, the American businessman who unsuccessfully contested the 1992 US presidential elections as an independent candidate, once said that when you see a snake, just kill it -- do not appoint a committee on snakes.

That quote came to mind early in the week when the Nairobi governor constituted a task force to review and propose reforms in the health sector. 

A good move by all standards in a country where the health sector is, to use a cliché, ailing, over half a century since the country got independence and after several task forces have been constituted to look into the problems bedeviling the sector.

It can be argued that the number of years that a country has been governing itself does not matter when it comes to healthcare because each year comes with its challenges in the form infections caused by new viruses or those that keep mutating.

What matters is how prepared a nation is in managing emerging infections or pandemics. That means every now and then, health systems have to be upgraded to keep up with changing trends in healthcare provision and management of new and existing infections and diseases.  

A few years ago, the world had to contend with the coronavirus, and nations whose health systems were weak, were the hardest hit. The ones which could not act fast enough to scramble their resources, experienced several deaths and were running out of burial grounds.

The pandemic necessitated an upgrade of health systems which included training of healthcare workers and even caregivers. A manifestation of preparedness and upgraded health systems was the vaccines which scientists in developed countries developed in record time, making others doubt their efficacy and safety.

Immediately the first case of coronavirus was identified in Kenya, a task force was formed to help in coordinating the procurement and supply of equipment needed to fight it, manage its spread and treat those who contracted the attendant Covid-19 disease.

Task forces. They are very important in the wider scheme of things, but are also a total waste of time and resources, more so in instances where the problem is not new but has just been getting ignored. 

Starting this year, many of task forces will be formed. Governors serving their first terms will use the explanation, nay, excuse, that their predecessors left broken systems and they need reports and findings to help them fix them.

The national government will also do its bit. Already, there are whispers that one will be formed to review the education system which younger parents in urban areas keep saying is forcing them to spend more time with their children when all they want is time in places where they can make merry — and more children.

While it might be in order to form these task forces to help new administrations formulate policies, it beats logic when the dirt that clogs the systems, where it comes form and which specific areas it affects, is known by both junior staff and technocrats.

Many a time, members of these task forces just question the public and staff, who have been complaining and sending reports, respectively, about the challenges in the health facilities, and what reforms are needed. These reports are never acted upon by technocrats who already know the problems.

Nairobi’s task force, for instance, has an official from the Health ministry. It would be foolhardy to imagine the Chief Administrative Secretary does not know the problems hindering provision of healthcare services in Nairobi, or in Kenya, and ways of reforming the sector.

It would also be silly of anyone to imagine that the staff at these health facilities in the city have not been sending reports to their seniors about their challenges, and recommending how they can be overcome.

After all, they know all the bottlenecks and there is ideally nothing new they will say or recommend to be done that is not in their daily, weekly, monthly or annual reports, which are gathering dust in some office at City Hall or Afya House.

While it might be speculative and almost libelous to say that the task forces at county and national levels are just conduits of corruption -- the public is numbed in to thinking they are being helped when they are being fleeced, especially by new administrations -- that is what it is.

Task forces are just ways through which Kenyan leaders manage their failures, or those of the system. They serve no purpose when there is no will to improve service delivery.

They just enrich a few individuals who are already earning public funds from other positions.

If we do not learn to kill the snake immediately we see it, we will be stuck in a rut after forming committees on snakes. And they will come back to bite us.