alexa Skewed employment practices in the civil service undermining cohesion - Daily Nation

Skewed employment practices in the civil service undermining cohesion

Wednesday April 6 2011


Parliament set up the National Cohesion and Integration Commission with a clear mandate to work towards the elimination of ethnic, religious and racial discrimination.

By speaking boldly and frequently about the need for tolerance, we have helped to deepen public understanding of the need to manage our diversity. It is a role we shall continue to pursue with enthusiasm and verve.

We have taken another step in executing our mandate under the law. The National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008 requires public entities to seek representation in the diversity of their staff.

At no time should members of a single community occupy more than a third of employment positions in any government body.

Some time last year, we began to audit how public entities were complying with this requirement. We analysed the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Data System for March 2010 against the population census report of 2009, as well as other official documents.

This exercise is important because it establishes a baseline for monitoring diversity. The results are an honest picture of where we stand. And the verdict is that Kenya has a crisis of exclusion.

Over 20 communities hold less than one per cent of the jobs in the civil service. In fact, seven of these communities each have less than 100 of their members working in the civil service.

In contrast, just seven communities each have between five per cent and 22 per cent of all civil service jobs. Although using the population size of a community to measure how represented it is in the civil service will likely miss the fact that not everybody is employable, it is a useful benchmark.

Six communities’ share of civil service jobs exceeds their population size by between one and four percentage points. Another five communities are under-represented by similar margins.

Up to eight government departments are in clear breach of the law because more than 33 per cent of their staff are from one ethnic community.

Two communities alone have a combined presence of 40 per cent of civil service jobs. Another seven communities are close to breaching the law because they each have members of one ethnic community holding 30 per cent of the jobs.

Only one department does not have more than one community occupying at least 20 per cent of positions. Even this position, though permissible under the law, is untenable.

These statistics are worrisome in the way they point to a crisis of ethnic exclusion in the civil service. The bulk of civil service jobs are in the Office of the President, thus underlining the overweening influence this office has enjoyed in the past, and the patronage attendant to it.

This study indicts the personality-based leadership system Kenya has had and signals the need to strengthen institutions that check the creeping effects of patronage The numbers represent Kenya’s present and past. They do not have to be its future.

There are many explanations for the current state of affairs. None of them can, however, change the fact that we have been insular and inward-looking in staffing the public service. That behaviour needs to change. This task is the public’s agenda.

The composition of the civil service is important, not only because it is the face of the government and can speak volumes about inclusivity, but also because salaries from jobs are an important source of income for many people.

Salaries form the initial bases for wealth accumulation. Furthermore, government jobs also come with the responsibility to manage public resources.

The skewed composition of the civil service does not only distort incomes, but also excludes large populations from driving policy about the things that matter to them.

The information used for this study was willingly provided by the government. The findings should not mislead officials to think it was a mistake to provide it. Some would rather these findings were hidden from public view.

We must not shy away from a candid debate of the issues, because in it shall be found the solutions to our problems.

In the coming days, we shall ask the Head of the Civil Service and the President to take administrative actions that bring those departments with more than a third of their staff from one community back within the margins of the law. We shall also ask Parliament to exercise its powers of oversight to ensure this is done.

Legislators also have a duty to re-examine the law with a view to setting a less arbitrary measure for ensuring diversity in the public service.

The importance of this study has become even more pronounced after the promulgation of the Constitution, which sets out the values and principles of the public service as, among others, diversity and equal opportunity across gender, ethnicity and ability.

The Constitution seeks to correct the errors emerging from an all-powerful presidency. This study demonstrates the need for urgency in making the new dispensation work while drawing lessons from the errors of the past.

As Kenya prepares to devolve power and resources to the counties, these findings should be a warning that the mistakes made nationally before could easily be replicated at the local level.

In future, we hope diversity will be the criterion for qualifying how money from the Equalisation Fund, as well as allocations to county governments are portioned out.

We encourage the private sector to undertake similar audits, because it is not unlikely that diversity should also be a criterion for qualifying firms with which the government should do business.

Dr Kibunjia is the chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.