Governance is the institutional capability of public institutions to provide the public and other goods demanded by Kenyans in an effective, transparent, impartial, and accountable manner, subject to resource constraints.
Accountability and transparency are, therefore, at the heart of efforts to improve governance. Corruption often flourishes where institutions are weak, where the rule of law and formal rules are not rigorously observed, where political patronage is rife, and where the independence and professionalism of the public sector have been eroded.
Once entrenched, corruption hinders economic performance, increases the cost of public investment, lowers the quality of public infrastructure, decreases government revenue, and makes it burdensome for citizens to access public services. It also undermines the legitimacy of government.
Combating corruption is not straightforward or easy. But it is not impossible, especially with increased public awareness of the problem.
Indeed, as the costs and consequences of corruption have become more publicly known, efforts to fight it have intensified. Although results take time, civil society organisations and the media have made corruption a public issue and challenged government to address it.
Broad coalitions of civil society, the private sector, and government are required to combat corruption, underpinned by reforms that increase accountability and transparency.
Therefore, Kenya needs to adopt anti-corruption strategies that are realistic, achievable, and consistently implemented; they also have to be Kenya-specific, because what works in one country may not work in another.
Today, we all know that Kenya has made a lot of progress by reforming to some degree, tax laws and investment codes, elimination of price controls, reduction of permits and licences and revising public procurement procedures.
By contrast, stop-start efforts, a piecemeal approach, over-emphasis on legal measures, and sporadic anti-corruption campaigns are unlikely to yield lasting results.
Specialised agencies and anti-corruption bodies can only be effective if they have sufficient independence, authority and resources. Ineffective bodies that lack real power can undermine rather than enhance public accountability.
We all agree that a professional, meritocratic, and qualified public service is essential to ensure effective and efficient delivery of public services and to combat bureaucratic corruption.
In Kenya today, public agencies – our most direct point of contact with government – is synonymous with poor service and inefficiency.
Popular dissatisfaction undermines confidence in public institutions, undermining government legitimacy. Just as other state institutions need to adapt to changing circumstances and be made more efficient, cost effective, and accountable, so does the public service. In Kenya, this will require a fundamental change in orientation.
In the past, efforts at civil service reform have mostly been in the context of adjustments; programmes negotiated with Kenya’s development partners and have focused on reducing the wage bill rather than on improving quality.
While capacity has increased in some areas i.e. (Central Bank, National Treasury) there has been little progress developing public service institutions. Revitalising public service agencies will, therefore, require transparent, merit-based recruitment procedures, promotion based on performance, sound management, in service-training and career development, and interlocking checks and balances to counter corruption.
Internal rules that deal with professional ethics have to be consistently and impartially applied. Piecemeal reforms are unlikely to be more than short-term palliative – what is needed is an over-arching strategy for sequencing changes. Political commitment at the highest level is also needed if reforms are to be successfully implemented.
Pay policy in public sector has especially been challenging since independence. The public sector has been subjected to severe wage compression.
But at the high-skill end, even after a recent trend toward widening differentials as part of the reform programmes, earnings are often far below market levels. As a result, the government cannot retain qualified technical people.
Unless a way is found to improve pay at the higher levels, it will be impossible to attract, retain, and assure the integrity of highly skilled public officials.
Dr Gesami is secretary, Policy Coordination, Office of the Deputy President ([email protected])