The folly of leaders who claim credit for government projects

The rampant normalisation of wickedness in our societal and political fabric has led to a troubling blurring of lines. In Kenya, the boundary between government-funded projects and personal political aggrandisement is increasingly obscured. This phenomenon is not just a matter of ethical concern; it strikes at the very heart of our democratic ethos. Government projects, by their very definition, are endeavours funded by taxpayers' money and intended for public welfare. These initiatives should not be mistaken for the personal feats of the individuals within the system who are merely executing their constitutional obligations.

Examples of this illusion of benevolence are rampant. Consider, for instance, a politician inaugurating a public hospital, claiming it as a personal achievement, while in reality, it is a project funded by the government and planned years before their tenure. The example highlights the ongoing problem where the collective effort and resources of the nation are overshadowed by individual political narratives.

A key issue in this discourse is the differentiation between government projects planned and executed with taxpayer's money and individuals in the government system who claim undue credit. Government projects are a collective effort, involving planning, budget allocation, and implementation through a legitimate, transparent process. The role of government officials is to facilitate these projects, ensuring they align with public needs and priorities, not to use them as stepping stones for personal or political gain.

Across Kenya, a common narrative among elected leaders portrays them as sole architects and benefactors of public projects. This portrayal is not only misleading but also undermines the essence of public service. Elected leaders often claim credit for projects, suggesting that these were accomplished through their efforts and benevolence. This narrative is harmful as it shifts the focus from the role of government as a service provider to that of an individual's power and achievement.

The prevailing "done for you" attitude in the political arena is disempowering citizens. It suggests a dependency on individual politicians rather than an understanding of government roles and responsibilities. This perspective diminishes the active role citizens play in a democracy, reducing them to passive recipients of political largesse. It is essential to recognise that government officials are elected to serve, and their actions should be viewed as fulfilment of their duties, not as personal favours.

Claiming personal credit for government-funded projects is not only misleading but is also a sign of disrespect towards the citizens. It disregards the fundamental principle of public service and the democratic process where government officials are supposed to be accountable to the people. Such actions diminish the value of civic engagement and public participation in governance, reducing the relationship between elected officials and citizens to one of patronage rather than partnership.

Democratic governance is anchored in the principle that elected governments use public resources for projects prioritised through a legitimate process involving public participation, budget allocation, and oversight mechanisms. These processes ensure that projects meet the public’s needs and are implemented within realistic timelines. The distortion of this process by claiming personal credit for government initiatives undermines the very essence of democratic governance.

This culture of messianic boasting has become prevalent among various elected leaders, from MCAs, MPs, Woman Reps, Senators and the national government. This culture, where projects are presented as favours to citizens, is not only spiritually ungrounded but is also exceptionally deceitful. Such behaviour is a manipulation of the electorate and a betrayal of the social contract. We harm people’s dignity when we blanket them with an illusion of benevolence.

Elected officials should rightfully take credit only for successfully working with citizens to accomplish projects that citizens have demanded. This approach aligns with the frameworks of the social contract, where the functions of each elected leader are clearly defined. The focus should be on collaborative efforts, transparency, and accountability, ensuring that public resources are used effectively for the collective good. In essence, the true mark of leadership in public service is not in the self-centered accumulation of credit, but in the humble recognition of one’s role as a facilitator of the people’s will.

Dr Mokua is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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