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Serem: We're below average on devolution

COUNTIES
By Faith Ronoh | April 23rd 2015
SRC Chairman Sarah Serem  gives her talk during the public sector remuneration and benefits policy validation workshop programme at intercontinental hotel yesterday  19-01-14.[Photo Tabitha Otwori/Standard]

Nairobi,Kenya: The Standard’s writer Faith Ronoh interviewed Salaries and Remuneration Commission Chairperson Sarah Serem on devolution and the teething challenges that remain two years later.

It is two years into devolution. How has it been and what role has SRC played during this time to ensure the success of devolution?

You are aware that we started our operations in 2012 as an outfit that I would consider the most sensitive because it cuts across the public sector and touches on the most emotive things.

For us, two years have been a momentous time because it was all about setting ourselves in place and entering into a very challenging journey, especially at the start of it.

We have, however, achieved a great deal of our mandate as SRC, especially in creating awareness on the existence of the commission.

I have been to literally all the counties and they identify with SRC.

Most importantly, issues of the wage bill are now well-known to everyone, including school children. Basically, we have entered into the national limelight by coming out very strongly in terms of public participation and most importantly, linking the issues of wage bill to Wanjiku at the grassroots, which is the whole purpose of devolution.

How would you rate devolution so far?

I would give it a four out of 10.This is below average because devolution has been more of a supremacy battle. Little time has been allocated to service delivery.

Instead, there has been a lot of politicking. If we came in and seriously focused more on service delivery, the achievements would be overwhelming.

Keeping in mind that devolution is a new system, what are some of the challenges the commission has faced during this period?

SRC was a new outfit. Talking about changing the culture and what has been happening over 50 years, especially among our leaders was a great challenge for us.

That is why there is a lot personalisation, with many questioning who this woman is, and wondering what commission is this that wants to take up our role?

We had to fight to ensure there is constitutionalism and it was necessary for us to put our position very clearly for people to appreciate that we did not just come into being, that we did not create the jobs we hold—it is a constitutionally-formed commission.

So have you managed to change the culture so far?

Two years down the line, change has sunk among Kenyans. Remember in the initial stages, Parliament was striving to disband the commission or even remove the people heading it.

We are all learning and adapting to the new culture of constitutionalism.

The debate on the ballooning wage bill has been in existence since you came in. How far has the commission gone in managing the wage burden?

The wage bill issue was already a challenge even before we came in. Our very initial statement was that we move in and check on scenarios that measure the sustainability of the wage bill. The wage bill to GDP ratio was at 12 per cent, which was way beyond the sustainability ratio. Ours was more of a curing mission, yet we were moving into a new era of devolution. This was similarly a new outfit that demanded costs. The impact of the new structures expanded the wage bill. It was expected that devolution would expand the wage bill. However, devolution meant taking services closer to the people, thus enhancing development and consequently impacting positively on revenue generation.

Has devolution helped in bringing down the wage bill?

The sad bit of it is that during the initial stages, leaders came in and demanded for more salaries. You haven’t even started your work, you don’t even know what your job entails and here you are demanding a higher salary. MCAs downed their tools.

The priority should have been what to be offered to the electorate to improve their standards of living, instead of asking for more. This tells you devolution was the best idea and is still the best idea, but do leaders know their responsibilities as elected or appointed persons towards achieving the objectives of devolution? Leaders must exercise statesmanship for devolution to succeed.

We have not attained servant leadership as a country. If this was not the case, we would have achieved five times what we have achieved now. We would not be running out of cash at the county level as happened recently.

Low productivity in the public service as well as allowances in the sector have also been attributed to the unmanageable wage bill. What is SRC doing to address this?

This has been our focus, but the tragedy of it all is that the wage bill has been on an average of 10 per cent every year. We do not have an equal match in terms of productivity. This means we are becoming more of a consuming society. SRC is looking at the value of the position held by each and every single public servant. We have done exactly that for all State officials.

We also did a salary review and survey so that whatever we set has a relationship with the region or the international market. We are currently starting off job evaluations for all other civil servants.

This will be a principle for determination of salaries. On allowances, we conducted a study and realised some civil servants were paid more allowances than their salaries. We have now categorised four allowances for purposes of harmony. We are still working on other allowances and in the end, they will be merged or done away with. However, it is work in progress.

SRC has been working on a wage bill policy since last year. What can Kenyans expect from it?

 

The policy is ready and is currently being validated. We realised everything we are doing has to be structured in a framework, thus the need for a policy framework.

The policy will be anchored on all the principles and fundamentals in determination of the wage bill, including issues of fairness productivity and so forth. We reached out to stakeholders, engaged the public and drew a lot of information from them.

We will also come up with a legal framework where the policy will be anchored. This will ensure it is enforceable and sustainable over the years.

How has the backlash from other key State institutions, including arms of government, affected your mandate?

The beauty is that our mandate is anchored in the law. The backlash does not dilute the provisions of the mandate and that has been our driving force over time. We expected the backlash but it has, however, empowered us more.

If you are a preacher preaching what you want the congregation to hear, then you are not worth being a preacher. We knew there would be a lot of challenges but we are not here to make friends, we are here to work. If we have a sustainable wage bill, it means we have enough resources for the 40 million plus Kenyans. Devolution can only work if we have enough resources.

What is your advice on sustaining the devolved system in the long run?

We need a system of evaluation where on a quarterly basis, governors invite the public and present their strategic plan and what they have achieved so far. This is the surest way of evaluation. We need to see what is happening. Devolution will work out if we do away with self-interest and supremacy battles.

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