The perennial strikes by our health sector workers are disheartening and act as a reminder of the suffering of the middle class; worsened by the high cost of living which will have spill-over effects on the realisation of Vision 2030.
Besides the rising cost of domestic borrowing, which has forced most firms to retrench staff, the clamour for more salaries in this country is accentuated by our political leaders’ hefty pay demands.
Our legislatures in both parliaments have perpetually called for higher salaries claiming that as the government’s watchdog they should earn more than other public officials.
Kenyan MPs earn about Sh1 million per month which is one of the highest in Commonwealth countries.
Our economy has stagnated since disruptions of the 2007/08 post-election violence, the cost of labour has also continued to skyrocket piling pressure on corporates with some forced to retrench stuff.
Similarly, teachers have been demanding a 300 per cent pay rise agreed with the government in 1997, while lecturers are demanding implementation of the return-to-work agreement with the government signed in 2008.
The Jubilee government agreed to release some Sh7.8 billion after a protracted strike by university staff in 2012.
The cash was to be paid in two phases with the first tranche of Sh3.9 billion released in December 2012. With lectures’ pay now on hold, the poor regulation of the health sector has left room for the medical fraternity aiming to rise to a higher social class — among golf, cricket and polo playing circles — to venture into private practice.
The government, on its part, has always opposed strikes terming them illegal and threated to sack those who picket.
It is unsound for the government to compel health workers to align their salary demands to its budget allocation.
It is unfortunate that the past two regimes are remembered for health workers’ strikes.
The government’s failure to control excesses like expensive unnecessary foreign trips has led to thousands of Kenyans dying as nurses’ meagre earnings fail to carter for their basic needs.
To reduce the bloated wage bill and raise funds for medical staff, the government should audit civil servants, do away with ghost workers as well as departments and ministries that duplicate others’ duties.
For example, some ministries are duplicating what Huduma Centres are doing.
On the other hand, the government should seal all corruption loopholes. How can a civil servant who earns Sh60,000 per month drive Sh3 million fuel guzzlers?
Previously job seekers left the government to join private firms but of late the reverse is the norm since it’s easy to loot from public coffers. Sealing such loopholes will increase revenue and pay medics and other public servants.
Similarly, digitalising government systems and outsourcing some services to private entities will boost efficiency. If the Jubilee government cannot meet the salary needs of lectures and teachers Kenyans should be assured that even the laptop project is on its way to failure.
OKWARO OSCAR PLATO, Analyst with Gravio Africa.