Questions over entrenched nepotism in employment have emerged at the State medicines agency, Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), which now says it is searching for a consultancy firm to review and give recommendations on how to improve its hiring methods.
Although chief executive Jonah Manjari has not confirmed the allegations, he has given a commitment that should the audit reveal unfair hiring trends, some employees would have to leave the authority.
However, the planned review also points to two possibilities: Either the leadership of Kemsa realised there are anomalies in recruitment or the authority had not assessed its employment practices and talent needs for a long time, giving managers room to misallocate resources.
Reversing this is going to be a painful process but herein lie important lessons for all public institutions on the need to be vigilant against nepotism, entrenching regional balance in the workplace and ensuring that they hire people who are qualified for the jobs, not those related to bosses.
However, there needs to be a system of sanctioning public officials who abuse their positions to hire relatives or other people who may not be qualified for the jobs they are given on a silver platter.
A culture of meritocracy is the one sure panacea of turning around the fortunes of the many institutions facing challenges such as poor results, poor procurement policies and other problems associated with incompetent and unaccountable staff whose primary loyalty is not to the institutions but to those hiring them. Just when Devolution was taking off, the Auditor-General raised the red flag that there were counties where hiring was heavily skewed, creating regional, gender and ethnic imbalances. These practices flew in the face of the constitutional provision that no community should disproportionately dominate county employment. Although the Kemsa has promised to clean up its staff role, the fact remains that hiring the wrong people is costly in the long-term. In the agency’s case, even such a clean-up will come at a cost to tax payers.
What is more worrying, however, is the possibility that unqualified staff had been put in charge of buying and supplying medicines to public health institutions, exposing patients to risks associated with incompetence. This must not be allowed to happen, especially in critical agencies where mistakes can have far-reaching consequences for public health and safety. It must stop immediately.