The South African opposition party, Economic Freedom Fighters, has come up with a proposal that Kenya should implement in its faltering efforts to slay the monster of graft.
The EFF is demanding a change to the law that would see all South African officials that receive their salaries from taxpayers compelled to use only public services.
Before taking office, every EFF MP has to take this informal oath, named after the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara: “As a practical indication of my acknowledgement that the only way to ensure that the services I provide are of an acceptable standard, I hereby undertake to use the services that the public sector provides to the people. What is good for me is good for the people,” the oath reads.
“I therefore declare that it is a criminal offence to use private services for myself, my family and my dependants, including, but not limited to, education, healthcare, housing and transport.”
One of the biggest weaknesses of efforts to deal with the rampant corruption in the public sector that is bedevilling Kenya is that there are no consequences for looting public funds.
Politicians do not encounter potholed roads. They fly over them. Nor do they suffer traffic jams. They zoom past with armed escorts.
A 2010 letter by the South African pressure group September National Imbizo might as well have been penned in Kenya: “Our hospitals are falling apart; doctors and nurses are overworked and underpaid. Most public hospitals are places of death. Our leaders, politicians, senior public servants and their families use private hospitals, which is why they do not care about public hospitals.”
It continued: “Our public schools are in bad condition, teachers are underpaid and the government is not investing in their training, with the result that after 12 years of schooling most children from public schools cannot read, write or count. This leads to high unemployment among the youth, who are trapped in hopelessness. Politicians and senior civil servants send their children to private schools, so public schools are not a priority for them.”
And: “Our public transport system is appalling. Every morning and night our people are packed into taxis, buses and trains like sardines. The queues are long and the fares are high. Our leaders, the rich and senior civil servants, have big subsidies for private transport. Some of our ministers can buy cars worth millions with public money.”
The only remedy is to force the politicians to use public amenities. Kenya’s ruling elites are a famously self-serving lot.
If they knew that their wives will have to deliver babies in public hospitals rather than being ferried to some first-rate facility abroad, they would be more careful about stealing funds meant for this purpose.
If all public servants were forced to take their children to public schools, you can expect that there would be far more attention paid to the quality of learning offered in these institutions.
One measure which is the easiest to achieve immediately would be an order barring traffic police from blocking traffic so that Waheshimiwas can zoom past. It surely can’t be right that regular citizens have to wake up early to beat the traffic and then ministers, governors and others cause further delays in order to get through after emerging from their homes in the middle of rush-hour.
In the United Kingdom, there was a long-standing convention that ministers should send their children to state schools.
In 2002, a minor scandal broke out when it emerged that although prime minister Tony Blair’s children were attending a state school, they were receiving some extra private tuition at home.
To Kenyan ears, the response to this is how on earth can it be considered a scandal and why were the Prime Minister’s children attending a state school in the first place.
But that’s precisely how it should be in any society where government officials see their role as serving the public and not just lining their own pockets.
Whatever you may think of Boniface Mwangi’s plan to run for Starehe MP, he has his priorities exactly right.
He has declared that he would seek to ensure that the privileges that government officials enjoy, which blind them to the suffering of the people, are ended.
It would be a tall order getting any of these changes enforced, of course. But there is no harm in trying.
Nothing would advance the war against graft faster than the knowledge by public officials that they would be acting against their own interests by looting funds meant to provide public services.
[email protected] @mutigam