As with almost everything else in Kenya, the rolling out of the government’s public sector reform initiatives is being unduly politicised.
The truth of the matter is that it is a rationalisation measure, exploring funding options at the national and county levels.
The point to grasp and internalise is that, basically, rationalisation is not retrenchment. Neither is it necessarily a euphemism for firing. Not at all; true rationalisation is all about efficiency; that is all there is to it.
One of the best definitions of rationalisation available is the one provided in the Rationalisation Policy Principles of the New Zealand Ministry of Education:
“When a school has more property than it’s entitled to under the School Property Guide (SPG), or has property it no longer uses, the school must find ways to rationalise it. This means looking at the school as a whole and working out what to keep and dispose of, and how best to do so”.
Under devolution, which has now become entrenched in Kenya, “dispose of” does not necessarily mean fire. And here’s why: Government at both levels has been on an employment spree. County governments have been employing as if what they need is a completely new work force. They are doing this yet the national government is overstaffed.
Layer upon layer of civil servants in the national government are idle, under-utilised or performing overlapping tasks, even the most basic.
It, therefore, makes eminently good sense that the counties hire, in the first instance, from the national government and only look for fresh blood on the open job market later.
Rationalisation is simply a matter of who does what, where and when, and with what beneficial result. In a nutshell, rationalisation is the maximisation of efficiencies and the minimisation of wastage.
Two good examples have already happened without any case of sacking – the trimming down of the Cabinet from the 42 previous ministries and ministers to just 18 and the compacting or merger of functions. The ongoing merger of State corporations has similarly only produced efficiencies, not created joblessness.
Devolution was always going to entail civil service-wide rationalisation, and it cannot be seen as an administrative ambush based on politics and ethnicity, or gender imbalance.
Rationalisation involves much more than just officers in job groups. It must take into account master plans, activity levels, demographic factors, staffing levels by administrative, operational, management, and job description.
National and local laws are also considered. There will be collective bargaining and employment agreements that consider work rules, compensation, benefits, training, contracting and staffing provisions.
The thing to note about the ongoing government-wide rationalisation is that it is not a trick at any level. It is one of the most massive exercises ever carried out in the history of Kenya’s modern bureaucracy. It is not an ambush by national government on county governments, or by the Presidency on Council of Governors.
In fact, the National and County Governments Coordination Summit, an entity that gets far less PR and awareness than most others, agreed on the implementation of the Joint Rationalisation Programme of the Public Service. Much of the debate on rationalisation, in essence, has been taking place in a context of an information and data vacuum.
The implementing Ministry Devolution and Planning has consulted fully with such stakeholders as the Union of Kenya Civil Servants, the Council of Governors, the Public Service Commission, the Transition Authority, and National Treasury.
In any case, devolution was never going to be easy. The devolution of national government services includes the first wave of sector reforms devolving basic services nationwide. It is a many-faceted and complex process, and it must have no room for ignorance or politicking.
The public must be educated, in real-time, about the aims, methods, and results of decentralisation.
Devolution widens decision-making spaces, enhances resource allocation and improves efficiency in democratic service delivery.
What the government is undertaking is an essential exercise. We must understand that Kenya will not move forward an inch, at both levels of government, without rationalisation.
The writer is Majority Whip, Senate