Columnists

Should public sector jobs be consolidated?

It is essential for a bureaucracy to be neutral and for public servants to put society’s interest before partisan agenda. FILE PHOTO  NMG
It is essential for a bureaucracy to be neutral and for public servants to put society’s interest before partisan agenda. FILE PHOTO NMG 

The president’s recent public appointments have attracted a wholesale of analytical lenses, but bureaucratic consolidation of public service seems to have passed unnoticed.

First, it is widely recognised that there is a link between the quality of public sector institutions and economic development. It’s for this reason, presumably, that framers of the Constitution enacted the independent Public Service Commission (PSC) in the spirit of de-politicising and to professionalise the unwieldly centralised public sector bureaucracies to foster good governance.

The core principle being that public administration is solely based on professional criteria such as merit as opposed to political loyalty or nepotism.

But government has held the position of Head of Civil Service directly under the executive usurping the powers and responsibilities of the statutory institution, the PSC.

In the past five years we have seen the Head of Public Service exercise unfettered powers, directly instructing public servants through circulars and memos bolstering executive control whilst overlapping and overriding the PSC, when he should assume an advisory role to the president.

Second, in a purely presidential system the chief of staff is generally the highest-ranked official who oversees operations in the Office of the President and are mostly known as the power behind the throne.

In most jurisdictions, the chief of staff manages staff under the executive, the gatekeeper protecting the president’s interest as well as play the close-confidant advisory role - typically a State House comptroller in the Kenyan case.

But we have both positions. So what are the distinct job descriptions separating the two powerful positions?

Third, are the chief administrative secretary positions. The fundamental question vis-à-vis public service reforms, is the position fit for purpose government institutional arrangement or is public employment still a resource to reward political loyalty?

The other looming question has been about the chain of accountability. Who do they report to, is it the cabinet secretary or the principal secretary?

Fourth is the appointment of Jubilee Party secretary- general to a cabinet position with no portfolio. In a democracy, it is essential for a bureaucracy to be neutral and for public servants to put society’s interest before partisan agenda.

The ethical question about this appointment whether its formal or informal is how the Jubilee secretary-general will be able to put the public good of all Kenyans ahead of the interest of his political party?

Fifth, is a case similar to the one US President Donald Trump faced when constituting his White House team of staff and appointed his daughter and son-in-law as his counsel thereby raising ethical issue of whether he was flouting anti-nepotism laws.

In Kenya, the president re-appointed his nephew as his private secretary. There is no doubt the president is free to appoint anyone to serve him in that office, the ethical dilemma just like Trump’s case is whether the nephew receives a salary from public coffers.

In conclusion, these are the questions that the National Assembly needs to ask the executive for disclosure in an effort to foster accountability and increase public confidence.

There is need for the streamlining of organisational structure within the Executive to reflect better defined functions and job descriptions, including clear definition and specification of the internal functions of departments.

But the absence of proper accountability in public service especially around the executive means that citizens are virtually powerless in the face of bureaucratic abuses.