Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wage bill debate sets stage for law review

By Dr Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 23 March 2014

Finally, and as predicted, the motive behind the recent wage bill ‘conversation’ is becoming clear. Already there are moves in Parliament to reduce the number of elected representatives ostensibly because someone has determined that they are a major contributor to the allegedly ‘ballooning wage bill’.

Apparently we must get rid of women members of the National Assembly, nominated Members of Parliament, members of the county assembly and even reduce the number of counties in order to reduce recurrent expenditure.

An interesting observation about this whole charade is that it is obviously being led by people who have always been opposed to the new Constitution. They have now repackaged themselves into protectors of our national expenditure, and are proposing moves meant to improve our economic position. Their real goal, as is now becoming evident, is to subvert the currently established constitutional order and revert to the authoritarian model in which all authority vested in the president, who was considered for all intents and purposes to be above the law.

This whole venture is extremely dishonest. Over the last three years or so, health workers have engaged the government in dialogue aimed at rationalising the national health workforce in order to improve service delivery to Kenyans. To this end, they have repeatedly suggested the need to have a health service commission that would register, recruit and deploy all health workers in the country, based on needs identified by the counties. (READ: Team set up to cut costs starts work)

The stock response from the government has been that such a move would require a constitutional amendment allegedly because the Constitution has vested all public human resources in defined constitutional commissions, and the health service commission is not one of them. Further, the Cabinet Secretary for Health is on record claiming, fallaciously one must add, that all health services have been devolved under the Constitution. 


The point of this example is that the political establishment has determined that it is next to impossible to enact legislation addressing key human resource concerns in the health sector, but is now attempting to legislate far-reaching changes in the constitutionally provided structure of government.

Predictably, these bills will move at breakneck speed through the Houses of Parliament as long as they enjoy the support of the ‘owners of government’. (EDITORIAL: Government wastage has become appalling) Politicians have indicated that even if it takes a referendum to enact the changes they are interested in, then that is the route they will take.

All this action is being taken, of course, in the interest of reducing the wage bill. One wonders if anyone else can see the ludicrous chain of reasoning behind such moves.

As has been argued before, more immediate measures can be taken to control expenditure, including cutting fraud, waste and abuse in government offices. Streamlining procurement procedures and consistently punishing corrupt officials will definitely yield dividends that will see the economy grow sustainably. More importantly, though, taking measures to increase our national income and productivity will be the key drivers of economic growth. Cutting public workers’ pay will not.

It would therefore serve our legislators well to focus on keeping the Executive on its toes, instead of wasting time singing the Executive’s chorus whenever they are called upon to do so. All this bickering is only serving to reduce investor confidence in the state, and no amount of wage bill cuts will bring this back. 

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. lukoye@gmail.com

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