Monday, 13 February 2017

Regarding the Doctors' Strike: We are focused on the symptom rather than the Disease

Here is what I think about the #KMPDUjailing and the health sector crisis: 
We are focusing on the symptom rather than the disease. The inability of government to pay civil servants decent wages - be they teachers, lecturers, police, or doctors is due to a more complex syndrome than we seem to appreciate. The syndrome is a manifestation of the following: 
  1. Public money is being misallocated so much so that things that deserve substantive budget shares do not receive while other less crucial ones do. Our budgeting process seems to be allowing far more expenditures than the capacity of our incomes (tax, debt and other non-tax resource streams). Politicians come to government having promised seven heavens – not multimillion stadia, not audacious infrastructure and not free laptops. These things have to be paid for. The net effect is a bloated budget that overburdens national income. The easy thing to do when resources become scarce is to make politically expedient fiscal decisions. Like allow resource investments in projects that politicians want (NYS, Galana, Save Kenya Meat Commission et al) rather than in public goods and services that crucial sectors need. Thats how you end up with budget proposals like the FY2017/18 with an insane deficit of Ksh900 billion! 
  2. Public money is being misappropriated, misapplied, and plainly stolen. So you have resource challenges that mean you cannot fully finance your ambitious budgets, but you still allow public officers to punch holes in public coffers for cabals of thieves in cahoots with government to steal. So now you surely cannot pay decent wages. Because every time you try to increase facilities and commodities for the health sector, some procurement officers at KEMSA and Ministry of Health or some Governor makes sure it is stolen. So every passing year, you deny the need to hire more health sector personnel and to offer better pay because you are spending on facilities and commodities that are perennially looted. And you know it. 
  3. But more importantly. The economy is small and it is stagnant. It is not expanding in tandem with our growing population and our changing consumption behaviors and patterns. So we are fighting and grumbling over low pay or unfair emoluments for public servants when the right thing to do is to expand the economy so that we earn more so that we can have enough to pay public servants decent wages. 
  4. The Civil Service is bloated in unnecessary elements and slim in crucial areas. The people at the IMF and World Bank and others in the Ministry of Finance and planning give the tired excuse that Kenya’s wage bill is far too high and that that is where the problem lies. Well, ask yourself. Is the wage bill stretched by essential services like health and education and internal security (police)? No. In fact each of the government departments in charge of these sectors and union people will tell you how they are grossly understaffed, their personnel sadly underpaid and overworked. So where is the unnecessary civil service force that blows our budgets out of proportion? Begin here: check the number of ministries, departments and authorities and commissions that exist in this country. You will find the answer. There are ministries with tens of authorities that you will never understand what value they add. For example in Agriculture you will find all manner of authorities – for research, for extension, for marketing, for disease control for whatever. Yet if you ask farmers and folks in the value chains of many agricultural products in Kenya they will tell you how they struggle with such small problems as ticks, and pesticides. Or better still. Why do you run two parallel governments? You have Governors running Counties, and then you have County Commissioners (with their little cheeky 'county governments') apparently reporting to the President (National Government) in all the counties as well. they all gobble up pubblic money. Never mind the value they add to efficiency and responsiveness of our system of government. 

My point is: If you want to pay civil servants breaking their backs teaching our children, securing our neighborhoods and providing healthcare for our families – you must be ready to do the right thing. Decide whether you are serious about providing those services. Then get down to business. You could start here: 
  1. Put a cap on what an incoming government can introduce so that they do not overstretch the budget with new projects that end up denying equally, in fact more important services much needed funding 
  2. Stop corruption. Prosecute people who steal public resources, recover what they steal and institute serious measures to discourage further theft and misapplication of public money 
  3. Rationalize the public service – so that sectors receive a fair share of public servants and commensurate resource allocations for their compensation 
  4. Wean the country off the idea that government is where work is. An effective government’s job should be to facilitate private sector to create employment that pays people decent wages. Not itself the main employer. Invest in and improve government services and goods that expand the private sector. And kill that silly idea of building an economy on government tenders and handouts to the youth.

My 2p opinion



Wednesday, 13 January 2016

2015 wasn't that bad. Cheers to another 365!
I took time to review some of the commentaries on various media in 2015. Some quite substantive and thought provoking discussions across a range of topics from the Ebola Crisis, to South Sudan, Chinese development co-operation, debt and public finance management, regional integration and trade, WTO 10th Min Summit in Nairobi, Kenya's middle income status, and the SDGs. Details and links here-under:  
Type of coverage
Organisation
Topic
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - Print
Business Daily - Kenya
Media - Print
The Standard - Kenya
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
Ebru Africa - TV
Media - TV
Ebru Africa - TV
Media - TV
Ebru Africa - TV
Media - TV
Ebru Africa - TV
Media - TV
Ebru Africa - TV
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - Print
The Star - Kenya
Media - Print
The Standard - Kenya
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media - TV
CNBC Africa
Media – TV
CNBC - Africa
Media - Blog
Development Initiatives
Media – Blog
ODI
Media – Blog
Spy Ghana
Media – Blog
Open Development Toolkit
Media – Blog
Open Knowledge Foundation

Friday, 26 June 2015

Does NTSA realise it could be impoverishing many for as long as it keeps Embassava suspended?

Granted the public transport sector in Kenya requires tighter regulation and enforcement of laws to keep Kenyans safe. But does the National Transport Safety Authority (NTSA) realise that it could be impoverishing very many people for as long as it keeps Embassava suspended?


Here is a succinct background to the story: A bus belonging to one of the SACCOs that run public transport in Kenya Embassava SACCO had a gruesome accident on Jogoo Road in Nairobi two days ago. Reactively, the NTSA moved in to investigate the accident and the SACCO. The NTSA then decided that the SACCO had not been complying with NTSA regulations – particularly employment regulations of their drivers and conductors. It thus suspended operations of all Embassava SACCO buses and instructed the Nairobi Traffic commandant to impound any Ebassava SACCo vehicle spotted on the road. See story: NTSA suspends Embassava 


Anyhow, laws and government policy are enacted and enforced for the common good of improving the lives of citizens. It would be unfortunate if enforcement of policy rudely fails to consider the implications on the lives of the people such laws are working to improve.

There is a concept I learnt in my Urban Development classes - that when government is unable to create jobs (like the one in Nairobi Kenya), the least it should do is avoid destroying existing ones, especially informal sector jobs.

Thus far, the hundreds of Embassava Sacco buses remain grounded. The implications are far reaching. Consider the incomes foregone by many of the bus owners who probably have complied with NTSA and traffic regulations. Consider the employment opportunities currently hanging on the balance. Consider what the many people employed by the buses in SACCO are currently doing to earn their daily bread?

Imagine the working Kenyan who took out a loan to buy a bus that's now not generating revenue - two days in a row yet is expected not to default on their installments.
Imagine the bus driver who won’t take home food today?
Imagine the bus conductor who will probably resort to funny ways of getting his income for today?
Imagine the 'mama mboga' who depends on these touts and drivers for her sales.

Government officers must recognise that enforcing regulations and government policy or legislation affect the lives of ordinary people in profound ways. There is a sense of arrogance and combativeness that NTSA and traffic police exude that is unethical and insensible. People are bound to commit traffic offences, that is why the NTSA exists, that is why traffic police are paid by tax payers.

I personally do not believe that NTSA and traffic police never can amicably agree on how to penalise traffic offenders without meting havoc on public transport users like Embakasi people have been experiencing in the past two days.

There must be better ways to enforce public transport safety regulations without destroying jobs and jeopardising people's livelihoods! NTSA must consider implications of enforcing public transport safety regulations on the lives on ordinary citizens.






Friday, 22 May 2015

Illicit financial flows squandering the fortunes of our future generations

If you have been having trouble trying to wrap your head around the mystery real estate boom in Kenya, or the 8 range rover sports you meet per Km on Mombasa road of late, there could be an answer here.

Read Bob Okande Austine​'s - 'Money laundering: The tag real estate can’t shake off' and Lilian Merab Mwakio​'s - 'Kenya loses over Sh600bn every year in tax evasion'. Then put that together with the Kshs300 billion the Auditor General perennially reports unaccounted for without answers - 'Sh500b State funds cannot be accounted for, says Auditor General Edward Ouko

The graph below illustrates the illicit financial flows, unaccounted public funds compared to other streams finances to Kenya. Migrant remittances data obtained from World Bank's Prospects; external debt data from World Banks - International Debt statistics 2015 report; FDI and exports data from UNCTAD; Official Development Assistance data from OECD-DAC's Creditor Reporting System; and unaccounted for public funds data from Kenya National Audit Office (KENAO).   




Are people laundering contraband money, evading tax and stealing from public coffers then showing up looking cool, flaunting 'hard earned legit investments'?
OR Is our economy genuinely growing and increasingly profitable to private enterprise?



Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The spat between Dambisa Moyo and Bill Gates and its relevance to Mrs Kenyatta’s #BeyondZero

So Bill Gates claimed that Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid ‘promotes evil’ and that she knows little about aid. And Dr Moyo responded (in her blog) that she got a PhD in economics and wide experience, how about Bill?




Reading through the articles about this confrontation, I couldn’t help but relate with the ongoing debate in Kenya regarding the appropriateness of the #BeyondZero campaign aiming to mobilise donations to improve maternal health sponsored by Kenya’s 1st Lady Mrs Kenyatta. There are those who laud the good lady for such a noble initiative. Then there are those like my friend Rita Oyier who rightfully ask: ‘Why should I pay taxes then run again” – alluding to the fact that if public finances were better managed, we would not need marathons and donations to fund maternal health.

The tragedy with the aid debate remains the fact that there are a bunch of skeptics (the likes of Bill Easterly and Dambisa Moyo) on one side and another lot of maniacs (the likes of Sachs and Gates) on the other end shouting at the top of their voices and preventing honest, factual debate on aid.  We know that neither of them is absolutely right.

Whilst aid has alleviated suffering (especially in humanitarian crises), improved infrastructure and promoted better institutions for governance and management of the public sector in Sub-Sahara; it has also distracted governments from effective Domestic Resource Mobilisation, economic diversification, or private sector development that would provide sustainable solutions to the problems aid has dealt with.

But aid skeptics (like Dambisa Moyo) fail to provide practical, logical, credible alternatives.

Dr Moyo benefited from aid in the form of scholarship to earn her Havard education (like many Africans continue to do). Bill Gates should know that countries like Burundi have up to 40% of their budgets funded by Official Development Assistance not because they cannot increase domestic revenues but more because aid has been made available.  

So calling aid ‘dead’ (Dr Moyo) or claiming that the book ‘Dead Aid’ promotes evil (Gates) does not help.



On the Kenyan example re - #BeyondZero. I think the campaign is well intended but the First lady could use her influence (being the person who goes to bed every night with the holder of the policy pen), to institutionalize a stronger, more effective and sustainable solution to financing maternal health in Kenya. 
She could begin with sponsoring a bill to increase and ring-fence maternal health funding in the annual budget. 
What happens when another 1st lady comes who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about maternal health? Michael Jackson and a constellation of stars sang ‘We are the world’ in 1995 to mobilise resources for Sudan. Is the problem solved today? Billions of dollars was donated to support Haiti after the devastating earthquake, but has the problem been addressed?


I am for complementarity. Neither aid nor the market/growth focused approaches will succeed in isolation. But if we complement prudent Public Finance Management with effective development cooperation, we have a chance. 

My 2pence!


Monday, 16 February 2015

On the ensuing Digital Migration debacle - Kenya Govt (CAK) Vs ADN Consortium

1.  It’s simple arithmetic – who loses most from the continued switch-off of SG, NMG and RMS? Ask yourself what immediate gains the GoK would accrue from the hasty migration to digital; in terms of revenues? media space for Kenyans? investment? trade? And what does the government lose: - revenue dips, eminent job loses, shrinkage of media space as the coalition members continue the shutdown. Do the math. It is not the government, neither is it so much the media - its Kenyans on the losing. Those of you who will soon be laid off; those of you who are bored stiff because you have no DSTV to watch todo sobre? Those of you who will not get public services because KRA failed to reach revenue targets because in some month in 2015 – some media houses were making loses.

2. Whilst governments elsewhere, in both the developed and developing world endear themselves to investors, make doing business easy, ours is actively stifling business and pushing away existing investors and crowding out potential ones. Why, because of egocentric tea-cup storms between a state agency and private sector!

3.  Granted we need an effective and efficient regulatory environment for the media – but at what cost? Granted we need to open up to the opportunities that digital migration portends, but at what cost? It is in the interest of government and the obligation of government to ensure that a speedy and lasting solution is found.

4.  So you hear Information Cabinet sec ranting how right government is and how wrong the ADN coalition is, you wonder why finance cabinet secretary – and all the folks that spend endless sums of tax payer money ‘wooing investors’ aren’t say a thing.

5.  These media houses have themselves succeeded in showing Kenyans how much they don’t matter. This should serve as a lesson to them – that as much as its business, it is the kind that is dependent on effective institutions of governments - which ‘the people’ have a way of influencing. A decade ago – people would have been on the streets protesting this switch off. But the ordinary Kenyan today has been showed the middle finger so much by these media houses, in the conduct of their coverage that no one gives a hoot.


6.  This is from my conspiracist closet. Come to think of it – aren’t these media houses the same ones largely controlled and bankrolled by Kenya’s cabal of current politicians? Why haven’t people pulled the ropes to save their businesses? 

Friday, 30 January 2015

Kenya's Start-up tragedy:

Pilotitis, policy failure and the absent domestic investor confidence in young entrepreneurs


Two days ago, I attended a World Bank sponsored consultative forum on the World Development Report – 2016. I got myself caught up in a riveting discussion on scaling up start-ups and why it has thus far been problematic in Kenya. I have banged my head ever since about this. I couldn’t resist ranting the two pence opinion I didn’t get a chance to dispense at the forum. Well, here it is:

Investors and young entrepreneurs – two worlds apart
There is a fundamental disconnect between Kenyan young entrepreneurs and possible domestic investors. Notably, the typical (prospective) Kenyan investor is wired for hard concrete investments: real estate, construction, agribusiness, and manufacturing. Tangible investments that come with lesser risks of uncertainty. Not 'faith' in some 'pizza ordering' 'direction pointing' 'weather predicting' or 'breathe alcohol level calibrating' app developed by a weird spectacle, jeans-tshirt-trainer wearing 19 year old at iHub least known to him.
Make no mistake, Kenyan investors have serious dime. Some of the machines these folks show up with in town; some of the homes we see on TV after some Karen-Runda tragedy - they spell BLISS, BLING, BALLING. Some of them were acquired by giant multinationals, others learnt the genius of business in +254, and some in mind blowing hereditary wealth.
A quick census - they are 60 - 70 year-olds who do not understand and care least about ICT revolution, big data, new media, the internet, yadda yadda. They are traditional conservatives who hang out at analog exclusive membership clubs and enjoy the country, game, and choma more. You sure won’t find them at Nairobi Java, or Brew Bistro or Michael Joseph Centre or Strathmore or Nailab or Mojos where our start-up entrepreneurs elect to quaff their chaff as my good friend Tom Osanjo puts it.

‘Pilotitis’ – too poor to sustain start-ups
We are too poor. Our young people survive on very thin limited resources that can never support their maintenance (food, transport, accommodation) as they concentrate on C++, python, SQL, Java etc birthing some bad-ass Sportify-alibaba-uberlike idea.
People have got to eat; it is only logical that entrepreneurs will pursue projects for as long as they meet their immediate rudimentary needs; not the Facebook or Apple the project could metamorphosise into a decade from today. Maybe our entrepreneurial culturing is still inept - in shaping the correct attitudes and discipline needed to see through an idea to its fruition however long it might take, however frustrating it could be. So that we don't drop ideas as soon as they fail to meet our immediate expectations. 'Pilotitis' - that's what my friend John Kinuthia calls it.
Maybe our investors as well aren't ready to cough out million after million into projects without obvious direction towards success, surplus.

‘Expat capture’ – domination of the start-up scene by foreign social entrepreneurs
Then there is the clever 'mzungu'. The bearded, man-bag carrying, sun loving MIT, Stanford, Georgetown, Oxford student that jets in with substantial funding, and fancy save-Africa social entrepreneurial ideas. From the 'brick' to every other M-something (M-kopa, M-changa, M-ngombe, M-Gormahia) these folks have clogged up the start-up scene in Kenya (no Nairobi, it seldom leaves the capital).
I am a staunch proponent of knowledge transfers and spill-overs, but am also well aware of the dynamics of multinational domination and crowding out of local enterprise and innovation. Lord! that might have come across a tad bit too leftist!
There are the awesome ones - I hear the genius of M-Pesa was born by their ilk. Then there are the stealthy borrow ideas-pimp ‘em up-come back to Kenya-bang new idea kinda guys. And of course the mundane-nothing to write home about-boring ones with ideas not worth the visa or Nairobi mahindi choma lot.
Point is, all these folks play in a concerto of domination that easily and unknowingly downgrades Kenyan start-ups, unfairly competes for investor limelight/attention and could demoralize budding home-grown talent. I sound ridiculously political on this right?

Policy failure
Controversial as it may sound, the role of government, institutions, policy, or legislation in propping up start-ups is profound. Whether in setting up the requisite infrastructure (like broadband), guaranteeing funding, or providing the regulatory environment (for example protection of intellectual property rights).
Am willing to argue that the government of Kenya has equally failed our start-ups (someone said that 'government' is an amorphous nothing entity). Yes this is stuff that is best executed by the private sector and facilitated by market dynamics. But for a country with such an acute youth unemployment problem, it is in the interest of government to put together a working framework for nurturing and supporting homegrown entrepreneurs especially after proclaiming our intentions to build a knowledge economy - Konza, Tatu City blah blah.
And I don't mean dishing out Kshs 50,000 to young people hurdled into groups of 50 to hatch one day old chicks in the name of Uwezo Fund, Youth Enterprise Development Fund, Kazi kwa kijana and the likes.

The Missing link between knowledge and post-class work experience
A few weeks before exiting the University of Birmingham, I had the opportunity to attend free seminars and tutorials on penetrating the job market. Resume building, pitching, presentation skills, the works. No offence, but the education system in Kenya (can’t speak for other Sub-Saharan countries) fails flat in preparing students for the post-class work experience.
This largely explains the inability of many of Kenya's young entrepreneurs, with brilliant ideas to market, sell their genius; to speak to the right audience and to win investor confidence.
Yes, you learnt programming at JKUAT and are extremely good at it - developing apps. Yes you studied design at Maseno University and you are superb at crafting Ankara-African apparels. But you end at that. You cannot explain yourself in 2 minutes to a Chris Kirubi at a cocktail at Alliance Francaise or to a Bob Collimore at the gents at Ngong racecourse, or to a Vimal Shah on the elevator at Lonrho House.
How will you ever get your idea funded? scaled up?

The missed opportunity in industrial clusters
What we sure lack, and which kick-start, sustain and encourage entrepreneurship especially in knowledge driven economies in other parts of the world are industrial clusters. Where knowledge meets industry and investors and policy support.
Across the globe start-ups thrive in such unique clusters. See the ICT & Biotech clusters in Massachusetts, the engineering clusters in Batten Wurttemberg Germany, the Silicon Valley, Emilia Rogmana & Tuscany's automobile and apparel clusters in Italy; Toyota City in Japan, Scotland's Silicon Glen, Sinos Valley in Brazil, Daegu South Korea, the French Sophia Antipolis, the examples are plethoric.
What is Kenya doing to get there? The famed Thika town of our high school days?

Skewed focus on tech start-ups masking other entrepreneurs
I will say one last thing, then shut it, before I cause me trouble. This one will not go down well with some of my tech and media folks.

In Kenya, there is a skewed focus on tech oriented start-ups. So much so that it makes entrepreneurship today almost synonymous with an ICT oriented something. And it need not be so. Mainstream media most often highlight techy stuff, maybe because tech is sexy and savvy, or they are easily accessible, or because of elite capture or simply because they are the more of our young entrepreneurs. I don't know!

But surely, this near obsession with tech start-ups almost masks substantial developments in other areas like agribusiness, art, new media, that could do with the light.

Maybe if we broadened our focus, coverage (now am talking to the media hehe), we could discover more young Kenyans, struggling with marvelous ideas that could create employment and get our young people off want and trouble. Remember the pencil portrait super-guy who did President Kenyatta the other day. Imagine how many more of such are out there unnoticed.

I rest my case on Kenya's ‪#‎Startuptragedy.

Yours truly - Okwaroh Ja Paprombe