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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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
- 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
- Rationalize the public service – so that sectors receive a fair share of public servants and commensurate resource allocations for their compensation
- 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.