News 2008


Though potentially messy, coalition the only way out

Daily Nation

Commentary by JAINDI KISERO

13. Feb. 2008

ON THE FACE OF IT, A grand coalition of parties does not appeal. Cautious voices have warned that we are likely to end up with an adhocracy in Parliament – a messy arrangement where the distinction between the opposition and the Government will be blurred, and where oversight institutions of the House will find it difficult to function.

Yet in our present circumstances, and in a context where politics is played along ethnic lines, only an arrangement that allows all the major interest groups to share power according to an agreed formula has a chance of healing the country.

We cannot just cling to the adversarial system of governance as though it was dogma, when the alternative is hundreds of people dead, thousands displaced, and a looming economic crisis.

In ethnically divided Kenya, staying in the opposition implies permanent exclusion of members of some communities from public positions, including those of permanent secretaries, directors of parastatals, and top positions in the disciplined forces, especially the military.

It can also imply that the regions of the ethnic communities sitting in the opposition benches are starved of resources, while the communities “in government” continue to hog the lion’s share of resources and public positions.

In this country, the State is still the most important source of investment and national employment. This is why it is so difficult to persuade people to sit in the opposition benches or to convince them that it is worth their while to play their watchdog role of taking seriously the leadership of the oversight committees of the House.

Sitting in the opposition is also disadvantageous because of the risk of losing your members to the Government side through co-option.

The Big Man will be dangling the carrot of public appointments, lucrative contracts to insiders, new districts for your region, and a university for your province.

And before you know it, the opposition will have been reduced to a one-ethnic-group affair, and its members will be dismissed as bad-tempered and eccentric individuals with neither influence nor clout – very much in the vein of the small group of radicals that former power man Charles Njonjo used to refer to as the “seven bearded sisters”.

What is my point? It is that at the stage we are in at the moment, a well-crafted power-sharing formula will send strong signals to the citizenry.

This might be the only way to demonstrate to the various ethnic communities in this country that their political leaders are now prepared to reunite and heal the country.

IT IS TIME OUR LEADERS DEMONstrated a capacity to change and learn from past experience. If we are to get the nation’s adrenaline going again, we must end the era of stiff-necks, frozen postures and unbending minds.

If there was a time we needed leadership, it is now. Leaders must emerge, from both sides of the political divide, who avoid inflammatory speeches, who can restrain the tempers of their ethnic followers, and who are willing to make compromises with their adversaries.

This country badly needs a leader to hold the country together and replenish its self-confidence – a healer to treat the political as well as economic wounds inflicted on its citizens, and a pilot to guide the nation onward to a modern state where citizens will prefer to relate to one another as compatriots instead of as kinsmen.

And, as we address power-sharing, we must also address radical reforms of the civil service. All those politically-appointed permanent secretaries who have reached retirement age should step aside to leave space for de-motivated career civil servants who have marked time in public service for years, hoping against hope that they will one day rise to the top.

Today, you can count with a few fingers the number of permanent secretaries who have risen through the ranks to occupy this coveted post.

We will need to introduce measures to strengthen the Public Service Commission, the official employer for the Government.

On paper, the commission has very transparent systems of recruiting people in the civil service. In 2005, it published new regulations spelling out detailed procedures for recruitment and tightening up the qualifications needed for each position.

Under the new rules, all positions have to be advertised, even when internal promotions are being considered. They include an appeals mechanism, as well as an obligation to ensure regional balance in employment.

But in reality, the rules are honoured more in breach than in practice. The appeals mechanism has not worked. In view of the fact that perceived discrimination in civil service appointments has become a highly-charged political issue, there is a strong case to raise the profile and autonomy of the Public Service Commission.

The Cabinet has also proved to be too large and unwieldy. There is a strong case for reducing the number of ministries by redefining roles and reducing responsibility to a few core functions.