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We must now define public service and private business

By Dismas Mokua | October 20th 2013

By Dismas Mokua

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Kenya has made significant progress in socio-economic development in the last fifty years. We stand tall in Africa but the nation’s potential remains suffocated by an incestuous relationship between the public and private sector.

It is the case that Kenya pales in comparison with countries like Singapore and South Korea, which were almost at par fifty years ago. The reason why Singapore and South Korea are developed economies and Kenya is not is because their political leadership empowered public servants to identify and pursue national interests. And at all times national interests are defined to yield and protect public good.

Public servants in developed democracies aggressively pursue national interests with patriotic vigour. Political leaders are socialised into national interests before assuming office to ensure that their decisions are consistent with national interests. Public servants remain loyal to Wanjiku, in fact most public servants in the West consider protecting and securing Wanjiku’s interests from politicians as their raison d’être.

And the political leadership respects national interests even when they have divergent views. Japan has survived a high turnover in political leadership because politicians have been driven by the bureaucracy to respect national interests. After World War II, the Japanese resolved to rebuild and since then, they can advise most powerful nations on military technology.

The same is true for Germans who decided that their national interest was to be a priority in technological advancement. This national interest was driven by public servants and has seen Germans shine in everything they do with the most powerful economy in Europe. German cars and Bundesliga are examples of their success.

Public servants in these counties are celebrated and treated with honour because they commit themselves to serve despite the often poor remuneration. A study of Forbes list of the richest people in the world as produced for various continents reveals that the richest people are private sector players. And this is the way it is supposed to be.

It is a generally agreed principle that if you want to make money, you need to go and harness the factors of production.

The sad situation in Kenya is that most of richest persons are in fact public servants. Most of them are neither known to own nor run any business. This is because public sector officials or their proxies run the private sector. A look at the Ventures Africa list confirms that if you want to be rich in Kenya, you must be a public servant and have close relationships with public servants.

The public sector catalyses the social economic environment for the private sector to thrive. There is evidence that you cannot create an environment for the private sector to thrive and participate in wealth creation at the same time without compromising national interests. That is why Kenya has not been able to achieve its potential.

The public sector is intertwined with the private sector in a mischievous relationship. This skews the decision-making process because long-term objectives of the nation are blurred and the public sector only gets to implement and catalyse programmes that serve the selfish interests of top public servants who also rule the private sector.

As we celebrate fifty years, it is refreshing to note that President Kenyatta this week asked public servants who do not respect national interests to quit and join private sector players in making money. Kenya can only go to the next level if officers whose only interest is to create an environment for the private sector to thrive man the public sector.

The writer is a communications consultant who analyses politics and economics

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