All That Kenya Needs is Accountability; Lets Demand it!

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By Mukurima X Muriuki

Governance can be good or bad; it is good when the governed can reap the positive benefits they expect from their government, but it is obviously bad when the opposite is the result. Bad governance is a major contributor to poor service delivery anywhere in the world.  In Kenya, the level of accountability in the management of public affairs has consistently declined since independence; it is therefore, not strange to read recent reports that paint a hopeless picture of wanton and reckless use of public resources.

It is safe to conclude that the continued deterioration of the level of accountability among public officials in the country shows that the adoption of multiparty system has not contributed to good governance.

Since independence, the level of public accountability in Kenya has consistently deteriorated. To begin with, the last colonial Controller and Auditor General’s Report for the financial year 1962/63 did not show any misuse of public funds. But immediately after independence the misuse of public funds began to be noticed. For instance, in his report for the year 1963/64, one year after the country had attained its independence, the Controller and Auditor General (C&AG), noted a decline in the accounting standards which in turn had resulted into the deterioration in financial control. He also reported many instances of petty frauds, thefts and evasion of the regulations. In the Report for 1965/66 financial year the C&AG again reported several cases of fraud, irregularities and theft. More specifically the Report noted that whereas in 1963 there had been 188 cases of theft by government servants involving £10,160, in the first eleven months of 1966 alone, there were 356 cases involving £34,720. Fast forward to the 2013/2014 and the impunity has multiplied at a geometric rate. According to the C&AG,  net proceeds from the Sovereign Bond of USD 1,999,052,872.97 out of the total amount of USD 2,000,000,000.00 were received on 24 June 2014 and deposited into an offshore account, contrary to Article 206 of the Constitution of Kenya and Section 17(2) of Public Finance and Management Act, 2012 which requires that all money raised or received by or on behalf of the National Government be paid into the Consolidated Fund.

According to the country’s constitution, no public officer or institution is permitted to spend public funds without the authority of parliament. To make matters worse, parliament too, year-in-year-out religiously approved government budgets despite the lack accountability of how the previously approved funds were spent. Due to the failure of parliament to act on the repetitive misuse of public fund by the various government ministries and departments, public officials find it normal to misuse public funds with impunity. In the 1995/96 financial year, the C&AG observed reported a legion of cases of irregular transactions. For example, a payment of US$46,800,000 was made to an Aircraft manufacturing firm for purchase of a Jet Aircraft and then illegally charged for payment to the Consolidated fund in complete disregard of section 99 and 100 of the constitution. In the 2012/2013 audit report, the C&AG notes that the office was unable to confirm whether expenditure totaling Kshs 390,266,678,529 was incurred effectively and lawfully as required by Article 229(6) of the Constitution of Kenya

The Kenyan public service that was inherited from the British was modeled according to the Whitehall tradition. This tradition included the following key principles: Firstly, civil service job is a career, which is permanent and pensionable; secondly, appointments and promotions are based on relevant qualification and experience, and thirdly, once employed one expected to rise in the ranks through promotions so long as one possess the required qualification and experience.

One of the key characteristics of an autocratic system of government is a personalized rule where the political leader often governs with little respect for the principles, regulations and laws that guide state institutions-the rule is by decree and those who are supposed to implement these decrees also often do so without regard for the principles, regulations and laws that govern the operations of the institutions they manage. An autocratic system is also characterized by the patron – client relation political process, meaning a political leader recruits close confidants who normally represent different constituencies and place them into key positions. One can sum this as the politics of brokerage and its structure is so well defined and rooted within the public service in Kenya that it will require a determined president to for the machinery to capitulate.

Another factor that is responsible for the deterioration of public accountability in the country is the decline of professional standards in the public service. From the early 1980s, it became quite frequent to shuffle senior civil servants from organizations to organizations without due regard to their suitability for the positions. Frequent shuffling of senior civil servants and bringing in people from outside the mainstream public service to fill key position grossly undermined the morale of civil servants who had worked diligently, marking time with the hope that one day they would rise to the top. Having been de-motivated, a number of public servants found it justified to use their positions while they still occupied them, to enrich themselves. This involved the abuse of office since one was no longer sure when he or she would be shuffled to another assignment or be dismissed from the public service altogether. As time went by, it became normal to abuse office.

Without correcting the flaws noted above, we can talk about a “Third Force” as a plausible messiah to our country but even if this was to happen, without rectifying the structure as it currently exists, such a Third of Fourth force may will not change anything. We must re-think how accountability can be enhanced, so much so that it wont matter who the president is-resources will never be utilized with so much wastage.