It’s an open secret that proximity to government, and especially to high office, is a way to create great wealth.
Traditionally, government workers were paid low salaries and had long careers. But that changed with the Ndegwa Report, which some believe had a preconceived intention to allow civil servants to engage in business while on the government payroll.
The Public Service Structure and Remuneration Commission was appointed in January 1970. It was chaired by Duncan Ndegwa, the then chairman of the Central Bank.
Its members included J. Gecau, CEO of East African Power & Lighting Company, S. Ominde, a professor of Geography at the University of Nairobi, P. Mwangola, a regional manager at East African Railways, and J. Oyugi, the personnel and public relations manager at Kenya Shell, among others.
They were sworn in by Chief Justice Kitili Mwendwa and proceeded to interview people around the country between April and June 1970 with the assistance of the provincial administration.
The team held consultations with several bodies, including the Public Service Commission, Teachers Service Commission, NSSF, KNLS, and NHIF.
They received written submissions from hundreds of others, including Married Women in Teaching, staff of the High Commission in London, translators at the Voice of Kenya, doctors at Kenyatta National Hospital and individuals like J.G. Kiereini and J.M. Kariuki.
The 398-page report, a copy of which is online, was presented to President Jomo Kenyatta in May 1971, and while known for salaries, it also looked at performance and management issues in the civil service and government.
The commission looked at differences in salaries for 1,100 job titles across 78 different scales and staff issues such as housing and bicycle and refrigerator allowances, after which they recommended that all the jobs be placed into just 15 groups for better evaluation.
The commission also found that civil servant salaries made up 46.5 per cent of tax revenue collected by the government, down from 50 per cent in 1965.
They resolved that improved tax collection meant the government could afford some increase in public-sector wages and proposed salary increases, with the minimum salary for Job Group A to be £120 (Kenya pounds). The maximum salary for Job Group Q, to which the Chief Justice belonged, would be £4,584.
The commission report also highlights a different era in terms of the status of women, computers and devolved governments that are insightful today.
They reversed a circular that had decreed that married women could not be employed on pensionable terms in the civil service from December 1967, and that women civil servants were to resign upon marriage, be paid a gratuity and could only be re-employed in the civil service on temporary or contract terms.
DISHONEST AND ILLITERATE
This was also at a time when the NSSF only included male contributors, as women could not register for ID cards.
This was an age before computerisation. But the commission was quite prophetic in finding, in 1971, that “there is still no overall appreciation of what the computer can do, in removing detailed and routine problems from an Accounting Officer, and because of this, the computer has up to now been regarded as little more than a very fast book-keeping or statistical machine”.
Another conclusion was that “its possibilities cover an almost limitless range of data and analysis, technical, scientific and statistical” and they therefore recommended that the government’s Computer Unit, located at the Treasury, which ministries were burdening with requests, should charge ministries if they want applications to be transferred to the computer.
They also found that the inherited British-style of local government was not suited to Kenya and that local governments had challenges retaining experienced staff due to interference from councillors, who were dishonest, and illiterate.
It also found that of the 33 county councils, only six had surpluses while 27 had deficits, leaving them incurring debt as they struggled to provide essential services.
This had resulted in the central government taking back the roles of health and roads from the councils, and with education set to be similarly transferred in January 1970.
But the commission report is most known for defining possibilities around private interests for public officials. Quite early, it cites sessional paper No. 10, which emphasises extending Africanising decision-making to private commercial and industrial sectors.
BAN ON HOLDING SHARES
This would protect the public interest by having profits reinvested locally and not repatriated overseas.
They found that, in principle, public servants could give attention to public duties and would not put themselves in positions where there is conflict of interest or create the impression that their official positions or information available to them was being used for their personal gain or that of their associates.
Their findings read that:
So long as the above principles are observed and subject to the proviso which follow there ought in theory to be no objection to the ownership of property or involvement in business by members of the public services to a point where their wealth is augmented, perhaps substantially, by such activities
Officers would not own more than 50 acres of land, and would not engage in trade or hold directorships without approval. The commission also abolished a ban on holding shares.
Finally, while the commission was not aware of any conclusive evidence that would indicate corruption or dishonesty were prevalent, or that confidence in public servants had been seriously undermined, they recommended there be a code of ethics, that all senior servants should make a statement of their interests, and that the country urgently appoint an ombudsman to investigate abuse by public servants.