Monday, September 15, 2008

MPs' baffling display of mediocrity

Daily Nation
Publication date: September 15 2008

Our MPs never cease to amaze. Recently, some of them used the floor of Parliament to concoct a theory that a non-alcoholic beverage actually contained alcohol and that the brewer was using it to corrupt the morals of our children.
The proof offered by the parliamentarian was the riots that rocked schools during the ‘mock’ exams season, and an alleged experiment by some pupils that is said to have demonstrated alcohol in one of the drinks!
Despite assurances by the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the responsible ministry, these MPs insisted on using tax-payers’ money to go and verify the claims that the drink contains alcohol.
This mediocrity of thought and behaviour was magnified several times over when the index ranking constituencies by poverty levels was released.
Many MPs went to town with claims that the index was doctored to show that their constituencies had become richer than they were five years ago! So loud was the noise that the minister suspended the index pending investigations.
Whether the index was doctored or not cannot be ascertained in these columns. What is of interest, however, is the knee-jerk reaction of MPs who indicate that it would be better if their constituencies are forever ranked as the poorest.
The reason given is that the poorest constituencies receive more handouts in the form of constituency development funds than the richer ones.
In the extremely suspicion-laden political environment our country currently finds itself in, many may find justification in the claims of interference with statistics.
Indeed any official document released by the Government will first be viewed with suspicion and intensely criticised before being accepted reluctantly, if at all.
What is baffling is the speed at which our representatives rushed to criticise the index without looking at the methodology, basing their rejection of the ranking purely on the perceived improvement of poverty levels in their constituencies.
This tells us what their plans are for their people — maintain them in the poorest possible state, dependent on State largesse, which they can then claim as their own.
It is instructive that in five years, these MPs will be falling all over themselves to show how they have improved the lot of their constituents and asking for another five years ‘to complete the development projects they will have started’.
By dismissing the poverty ranking index, they are sending out a clear message that they will not abide any method of evaluating their performance.
The goal of the index should include evaluating the effectiveness of the CDF that is disbursed regularly to the constituencies.
In an ideal situation, if an audit uncovers inefficiencies in the administration of the fund, changes would be instituted to address these weaknesses and make the fund more useful to the people.
Indeed, if the fund is found to be harmful and counterproductive, it would be better to scrap it and think up more meaningful uses to put our money to.
Politicians have perfected the art of empty rhetoric and populist outbursts to the point that they have stopped paying attention to the content of their speech.
This they do with the active connivance of Kenyans who look on and applaud every farcical statement they make.
In the middle of all this, the poverty levels continue to rise, inflation eats away at the savings of the common man, commodity prices climb remorselessly and incomes continue to dwindle.
No politician is displaying the kind of vision needed to raise this country out of the dark hole it is digging itself into. Instead they are either peering into crystal balls trying to figure out if they will be alive in 2012, or making useless noises in defence of their ‘principals’.
As demonstrated in our recent history, this country is suffering from an acute crisis of leadership.

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at the Moi University School of Medicine.

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