By Kap Kirwok
27 April 2013
“I will act swiftly to end the scourge of corruption. Corruption makes our country less attractive as an investment destination. It limits access to much needed services, stifles efficiency and eats away at public values.” President Uhuru Kenyatta at the opening of the 11th Parliament.
When the President made that statement, I wonder how many in the audience were yawning. They can be excused. The vow to fight corruption is a welcome pledge. But it is a tired refrain likely to be dismissed by many as a salutary statement; a deliberate balm to assuage public anxieties.
Now that the Cabinet – a true medley of talented individuals – has been unveiled, the focus of expectations has rightly shifted to the twin concepts of performance and probity. Will this Cabinet’s performance meet the public‘s expectations? And as to probity, will this Cabinet perform its duties with the integrity expected of holders of such positions?
The public has high expectations. And yet it is not without a touch of cynicism. On the question of performance, some cynics may have been given additional reason to roll their eyes when they see examples of what they consider a mismatch of qualification or experience with portfolio. They point to, for example, Dr Fred Matiangi, a governance expert with a degree in English assigned to run the new ministry of Information, Communications and Technology. Or, James Macharia, a career banker, charged with running the Ministry of Health. Whilst our history of Cabinet appointments and their performance may justify such cynicism, the same history also offers evidence of hope. The late John Michuki, a career banker with a talent for administration, was a stellar performer in the ministries of Transport and Environment. Therefore, whilst qualification and experience are important in performance, talent and passion are more so.
It is for this reason that I am not too concerned with the ‘mismatch’ of qualification or experience with Cabinet assignment. In regard to the two specific examples above I can state with a greater degree of confidence (because of my acquaintance with them) that they will bring talent, passion, vision and (I pray) humility to their jobs.
There is also a strong case to be made about the need to ‘mix and match’ training, experience, talent and passion at the level of Cabinet Secretary and Principal Secretary. A Cabinet Secretary of Health with a background in finance would be expected to bring fresh perspective to matters of cost efficiency and effectiveness. He will, to use a cliché, be expected to introduce out-of-the-box thinking on the whole concept of value-for-money in the delivery of health services.
Similarly, a Cabinet Secretary for ICT with a background in governance and legislative processes should bring fresh eyes to the important matter of strategic communications. With Dr. Matiangi’s experience in governance issues, and his mastery of our official language of communication (a PhD in English), I expect a greater focus on strategic communication. A keen nose on gains in the democratic and technology domains, coupled with strategic communication of the same, could be invaluable in the building of a positive country brand.
But whilst in matters of pure performance, talent and passion, vision and humility are necessary; they are not sufficient where truly exemplary and consequential leadership are required. This brings us to the vexed issue of probity – specifically moral rectitude in the performance of national duty. This is where Kenyatta’s presidency will need to come up with a strategy to manage public expectations – which are currently a mix of hope and pessimism. It is also where the President’s quote (at the top of this article) comes into sharp relief.
Corruption is a chronic disease that will not go away soon – or ever! Presidential pronouncements about zero tolerance on corruption are therefore just that – pronouncements. A certain level of corruption will always be there in Kenya – or anywhere in the world. It is matter of degree and impact. Academic purists (Dr Fred Matiangi’s co-authored book The Role of parliament in Curbing Corruption comes to mind) see corruption in three broad categories: grand, administrative and petty. Of these, the most worrisome is grand corruption because of its tendency to capture and subvert a State’s governance and institutions.
In Kenya, are we clear about the different shades of State-capturing grand corruption?
In the USA, certain forms of State capture have been legitimised. You may, for example, register as a lobbyist (there are about 13,000 in Washington D.C. alone) and be paid to influence decisions in favour of your clients. Campaign finance laws also allow large corporates (and other organised groups) to – under the guise of freedom of speech – pour unlimited resources into shaping public opinion in political contests – often in furtherance of narrow interests. Is this corruption? Is this acceptable State capture?
The public rightly expects the President to lead the charge against corruption – and to give meaning to the word “swift”. He now has a team to help him. But, like performance, it must be approached with understanding and humility – with all citizens actively participating. Only then can our expectations be realistic.