Sunday, November 20, 2011

Government should not use war as a stock excuse


Sunday Nation 20 November 2011

Lecturers went on strike on November 9 after a two-year wait for negotiations with government bore no fruit. It is claimed that a circular from the head of the civil service advised all public service employers that there should be no negotiations until the Salaries and Remuneration Commission was in place.

Even after that purported circular was released, teachers threatened industrial unrest, and their demands were met with alacrity. Money was also allocated for police and military salaries and allowances after some low-level grumbling and veiled threats to national security. More recently, money has been found to address problems at the two national referral hospitals, after work stoppages at both institutions threatened to get out of hand.

The message that is coming out of these events is that it is pointless to engage the government in civilised conversation when it comes to improvement in terms and conditions of work in the public service. Apparently the only language top government officials understand is of unrest and strikes.

Indeed, preparations are under way for a nationwide strike by doctors and other health workers in the public service over poor pay, unhealthy working conditions and uncertain career progression. The government is aware of the preparations, but has kept mum, waiting for the crisis to explode so it takes action.

Lately, senior government officials have taken to asking workers to be patriotic, suggesting that all government resources have been diverted to the war in Somalia against the Al-Shabaab. The PM practically accused striking lecturers of being unpatriotic by creating a second “war front” at a time when the country is at war.

This accusation has been repeated by the minister for Higher Education and her assistant, both former lecturers, who would be expected to be more sensitive to their colleagues’ demands. It seems, therefore, that the government has decided the stock response to any salary demands will feature the war in Somalia and appeals for patriotism. This implies the war was impulsive and unplanned, and that necessary resources were not set aside for the war in order to allow the rest of the economy to function normally.

If this is true, then it is clear that we are being led by government devoid of any sense of direction, and we are in real trouble. A more plausible explanation is that the war is being used to hoodwink Kenyans about the true cause of financial haemorrhage in this country.

Kenya experiences economic difficulties towards an election year, as politicians engage in schemes to raise campaign funds. It is not inconceivable that massive looting is going on on both sides of the grand coalition, and that we shall only be able to appreciate the scale of the looting after the General Election next year.

The PM repeatedly reminds us that it is possible to chew gum and climb stairs at the same time. Is he now suggesting that this is no longer the case?

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine 

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