Why blame game will not end salary disputes

Tuesday March 14 2017

Dr Samuel Oroko (centre), the national chairman of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, with the association's national secretary-general Dr Ouma Oluga (left) and Nairobi branch secretary Dr Thuranira Kaugiria at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on December 8, 2016. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Dr Samuel Oroko (centre), the national chairman of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, with the association's national secretary-general Dr Ouma Oluga (left) and Nairobi branch secretary Dr Thuranira Kaugiria at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on December 8, 2016. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By DOROTHY KWEYU
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What does one make of conflicting information regarding the end of the doctors’ strike? Have they finally seen the light and resumed work after the government pegged any further consultations on their resumption of duties? Kenyans need to get to the root of the longest professionals’ strike in Kenya’s history.

Despite snide remarks against doctors in social media – like suggestions that stopping their salaries has failed because they give their employer only two hours a day anyway – the problem demands radical solutions, not name-calling.

Suggestions that the doctors’ demand for better pay is selfish, impractical and unpatriotic are hypocritical.

Civil servants’ loyalty to their employer and dedication to duty died in 1970 when the Ndegwa Commission allowed them to dabble in business. From a situation where a civil servant kept an eight-hour workday, we created a culture where they also run private businesses. Contrary to the biblical maxim and that “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other”, the Ndegwa Commission spawned the mess we are wallowing in. Ironically, instead of mustering the will to return Kenya to where it was before 1970, we are engaged in a blame game, accusing doctors of doing what everyone else is doing. The dire situation of patients is heart-rending. The situation calls for bold – and realistic – measures to return to a situation where civil servants find satisfaction in their work, not for sheer love of it, but because it can also sustain them and their families. The same applies for any other professionals, given that not just doctors are agitating for a better deal, but also nurses and clinical officers. Threatening doctors and harassing union leaders into submission may achieve temporary results. What is needed is a permanent solution.

CIVIL SERVANTS

First, is the government’s admission that the Ndegwa Commission erred big time when it created a situation where civil servants run businesses on the side. The problems go beyond theft of government time. Its supplies often end up in private clinics.

In schools, head teachers blatantly rob parents. But the problem here is more administrative. A civil servant who is away without leave should face disciplinary action. That can only happen if supervisors are themselves on duty.

If they are conducting their own businesses during official working time, there should be avenues for their customers to file complaints. Sadly, that is easier said than done. The public sector strikes are rooted in an unjust rewards structure. First, MPs, Senators, Woman Representatives and members of county assemblies should earn their pay. The politicians are engaged in a frenzy of looting. Besides bloated salaries, they draw huge allowances for making technical appearances.

It offends the sensibilities of hardworking people like doctors to see county assembly members, many of who never went beyond primary school, drawing millions in all manner of allowances. These allowances are a colonial legacy when they were legitimate stipends for lawmakers, who worked part-time. Aldermen (as councillors were called) met in the evenings after putting in a decent day’s work elsewhere. Legislators’ job is making laws and paying them sitting allowances is tantamount to double pay. The solution to the huge wage bill is narrowing the gap in the public service and eliminating sitting allowances for legislators. Can we return to the situation where we have well-paid civil servants dedicated to their jobs?

Dorothy Kweyu is a freelance writer and consulting editor.