How do you catch a thief, say, in your business? The first telltale sign of rampant theft would be increased purchases and increased requests for petty cash.
An employee predisposed to thievery will surely know that it is easier to pilfer what is procured than that which is in the bank.
For if there is a lot to be bought, there is also a lot to be stolen; and a lot more opportunity to steal. At the same time, more purchases mean less scrutiny as there is just too much to keep your eyes on.
Most budget plans are done in State departments by officers hellbent to feather their own nests.
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In other words, procurement plans are created to fatten the pockets of the planners. This is why flowers, tea and roads are procured with reckless abandon.
No one wants to save money, they all want us to spend more because that translates to more opportunity to steal. A balanced budget is an impossible thing to achieve if thieves continue to budget.
The budget is not an animal brewed and bred at the Treasury. Instead, it is done by mandarins in every State department and parastatal. Therein lies the conundrum.
How does one CS sitting at Treasury ensure the greed of officials in various departments is kept in check? The only way is to take the fight against corruption to the next level; a war against waste.
This is why, I suspect, that we are doing zero budgeting now. Previously government budgets were done based on the assumption that the first budget in 1963 was right and we should increase it annually by a factor of 15 per cent.
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Thus the budget-making process is mechanical.
It is not intuitive nor responsive to present day realities. Further, thieves generally do not like changes in budgeting or procurement, for any change usually spells doom to the cartels they have formed to siphon money.
In order to hide theft, it is also quite important to procure things that have no direct impact on service delivery. Because if you dare deliver something to the public, then scrutiny will be on you. Thus thieves love the mediocre.
This is the reason Kenya is awash with institutions tasked with important work but you never hear of them. They can’t perform, for if they do the spotlight will be on them.
So like cockroaches they hide in the dark. Thus the challenge of Kenya getting a balanced budget is greater than issuing government memos.
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There is an urgent need to change how Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and priorities are set. The Civil Service should be engineered to deliver on their respective mandates. We must make their work known through sustained public scrutiny.
Each government entity must not only expose its tendering process; it must also show what has been achieved by the billions received.
Agriculture and Food Authority, for example, should be held to task when it comes to the poor state of coffee in Kenya. It should tell Kenyans what it has done and if it can’t, the law should prescribe an easy route to fire and hire.
It is sad that year-in- year-out, inept and corrupt civil servants continue to earn fat salaries and even fatter proceeds of corruption while HR departments are reduced to writing memos and warning letters.
There should be a simple standard; if you don’t meet your KPI you go home.
This kind of approach will ensure that budgets are much more targeted to results than they are to tea and flowers. The CEO and the finance officials will look for ways to optimise expenditure for results instead of optimising procurement for greed.
Further, the Ministry of Finance should calculate the Return on Investment and dividend for its budgets per department and ministry.
If a ministry received Sh60 billion, it should provide evidence of what was earned from it. It can’t be that all some agencies achieve is payment of salaries and staff twiddle thumbs all year and procure only pens, cartridges and papers as though they are a publishing house.
Kenya should borrow a leaf from the US. Tesla and many Elon Musk companies are funded by the US government - this helps boost innovation.
Almost all major US companies have tenders with the US government for the development of new technologies. In Kenya we have the opposite, local companies tender to import pen, paper and toothpicks from abroad.
What is even sadder is Kenya is a net consumer of technology. Government should support innovation in both large and small-scale.
We innovate only on what others have created. We have not learnt that billions were made in the 1980s by people tinkering with a new thing called computers.
Here, there is no tinkering, we are doing what we did in the 1980s - using western technology.
Today in the garages of America, they are tinkering with Artificial Intelligence and a little thing called CRISPR.
If you don’t know what CRIPR is, then I am certain you won’t be a billionaire soon and Kenya will keep floundering as it has for 56 years.
Mr Bichachi is a communication consultant. [email protected]