Perhaps we need a Bill of Responsibilities

Monday July 17 2017

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
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The other day, I went to the National Hospital Insurance Fund's Westlands office in a bid to correct an anomaly on an M-Pesa transaction regarding a parent’s membership.

I was blatantly informed that the "the person who deals with M-Pesa is not in, try again tomorrow". So I called the insurer's toll-free number and I was asked to visit the nearest branch, which I confirmed I had already done.

There's this trick where they claim you are being transferred to the right department before you get disconnected. After five disconnections, I wrote an email and was asked to visit Upper Hill.

In other words, NHIF seems to have a function that belongs to an individual and if that individual absents himself or herself from work, then customers bear the brunt of such issues.

Woe unto members should such a person die, because I guess M-Pesa issues will not be resolved until the new "owner" is recruited.

This was an NHIF experience, but I feel that it is not really an institutional problem since this laissez faire attitude permeates all walks of Kenyan life, including the private sector.

FOREIGN CONCEPT

As Kenyans, we know we have rights but most do not think they owe their institutions or nation any responsibility.

In traditional societies, roles and responsibilities of members of a group were very clear and penalties for not honouring responsibilities were also very clear.

Whereas there was a conduit of collection and redistribution (chief, elders, headman, etc.) of both services and consequences for lack of adherence, individuals knew what their personal responsibilities were towards nationhood and did not need policing to carry them out.

Leaders played diverse roles, including environmental protection, custody of knowledge systems and running jurisprudence.

Homeless people were a foreign concept as these conduits ensured everyone was cared for and they controlled economic affairs to ensure some level of equity in society.

EARNEST ENDEAVOUR

As Kenya strives for cohesion of its nation-state, which is made up of many nations, most of the important factors that define and refine citizenship are getting lost in the details.

The Bill of Rights, a very important part of the Constitution, has no doubt gone to our heads. Whereas I think it is my right to get service at NHIF, if am sitting on the other side of the desk, I do not feel any responsibility to help a Kenyan seeking services from the institution that compensates me on agreed terms.

I would rather send them on a wild goose chase.

It might be that Kenya was closer to understanding our responsibilities as citizens when the national anthem was composed in 1963. It refers to "service being our earnest endeavour" and standing to defend our homeland, which we then viewed as a "heritage of splendour", not plunder.

It also talks of our common bond to build Kenya, which then will be the glorious fruit of our labour, making us very thankful, but very few Kenyans remember or even respect this, especially during this campaign period, when we clap and cheer most for our bobblehead politicians when they tell us what the government has done or not done for us.

REGULAR REMINDER

No politician will ever remind us that our contribution to the common kitty ensures there is something to redistribute. No one will remind us that all those people who have the responsibility of implementing projects are not doing Kenyans a favour, but have a responsibility to use taxpayers’ money for the benefit of society.

How, otherwise, do they think this nation will become or remain a heritage of splendour? It must be for a purpose that in my time, school children sang the national anthem at the morning assembly, a constant reminder of what is required of you as a member of this nation-state called Kenya.

Kenyans need a regular reminder of their responsibilities, lest our sense of rights grows at anarchical proportions.

Nations such as the United States of America, to whose splendour many have run, have a department of homeland security, under which the rights and responsibilities of citizenship have been clearly defined. The list of responsibilities is longer than that of rights.

Further, the responsibilities have been categorised as mandatory, such as paying taxes and those not demanded in law such as voting. So, Kenyans in the diaspora, it is your right to vote, yes, but it is not a responsibility required in law.

Many responsibilities of citizenship sound mundane but they are the basis of respect and shared values on which freedom is domiciled, such as obeying laws, including traffic laws, not taking or giving a bribe, and enlistment in the armed forces in time of war.

Just like death and taxes are certain, as articulated by Benjamin Franklin, every right of a citizen is sure to be balanced by two responsibilities for a nation to prosper.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa