Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Increased scrutiny good for the public service

Sunday Nation 24 April 2011

This past week has left most Kenyans with little to cheer about.

From protests about rising food and fuel prices to finger-pointing over the slow pace of the implementation of the Constitution, many would be forgiven for feeling boxed into a corner with very few options open to them.

However, amid all the gloom and lamentations, there was a glimmer of hope that things are looking up in the governance structures of this country from the most unlikely of sources.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, Roads permanent secretary admitted that senior civil servants are living in fear of prosecution for real or perceived corruption in their dockets.

This statement was obviously meant to elicit some sympathy from the parliamentarians, and it probably did, given that some members of the committee purported to warn the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission to “respect other bodies (read Parliament) since it does not work in isolation . . .”

Progressive Kenyans, on the other hand, had cause to be jubilant over such a confession. At the risk of being branded a sadist, I was one of those who were happy to hear that senior government officials can no longer just do whatever they like with public resources.

They have to keep looking over their shoulders every time they are spending our money, knowing that there are multiple eyes trained on them to prevent them from misusing it.

If Kenyans needed any evidence that the impunity of yesteryears is slowly but surely vanishing, this is it.

Few months

In the few months since the 2010 promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya, the president and his ministers have had to constantly consult and study their obligations under the law before performing any official act.

Whenever they have failed the public interest test, they have had to face the wrath of other constitutional and civil society bodies that have made it their business to prevent monkey business in government.

This is a good start for our nascent democracy, and there is reason to hope for a better future.

Contrary to the permanent secretary’s assertion that such scrutiny will discourage young people from taking up government appointments, many young, untainted experts and leaders will relish the opportunity to serve their country without any hesitation.

The assumption that every Kenyan is afraid of scrutiny is false, and taken to its logical conclusion (that we are all innately corrupt), it is even insulting.

This scrutiny of public officials should serve as a wake-up call to all the old fogies who are not used to fulfilling their responsibilities without succumbing to the temptation to steal.

Those that are unable to stand the heat should, to use a cliché perfected on the Kenyan political landscape, do the honourable thing and “step aside”.

County governments

The coming of county governments will demand even greater scrutiny at lower levels of government. It is conceivable that many in the corrupt classes will seek to “decentralise” corruption to a level where they think the risk is lower. We must not let them get away with it.

We must keep in mind the old saying that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Fear of scrutiny and prosecution for wrong-doing betrays a pilfering mentality that has no place in the public service. Like the man said, the guilty are always afraid.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com

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