More than meets the eye in city demolitions


I have been following closely the city demolitions and, for once, I want to be the devil’s advocate. My question is this, why now? All of a sudden we are concerned about the public good and have to watch about 4,000 building and structures worth billions of shillings go down.

This reminds me of the public choice theory that became popular in 1986 when James Buchanan, one of its two leading architects (the other was his colleague Gordon Tullock), was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics.

Public choice takes the same principles that economists use to analyse people's actions in the marketplace and applies them to people's actions in collective decision making.

Economists who study behaviour in the private marketplace assume that people are motivated mainly by self-interest.

Although most people base some of their actions on their concern for others, the dominant motive in people's actions in the marketplace — whether they are employers, employees, or consumers — is a concern for self.

Public choice economists make the same assumption—that although people acting in the political marketplace have some concern for others, their main motive, whether they are voters, politicians, lobbyists, or bureaucrats, is self-interest.

In Buchanan's words the theory "replaces... romantic and illusory... notions about the workings of governments [with]... notions that embody more scepticism."

Although legislators are expected to pursue the "public interest," they make decisions on how to use other people's resources, not their own. Furthermore, these resources must be provided by taxpayers and by those hurt by regulations whether they want to provide them or not.

In this case, they easily find a capable culprit the illegal constructions. But, they are illegal according to who? It is evidently illegal according to the government documents and archives. Fair enough, but surely who approved them? Are we staring at unending court battles that will later haunt the taxpayer? Did the approvers act in their own capacity or that of the State?

As it is, history has shown that there are no lessons learnt for the Kenyan voter that has seen increased lack of incentives for good management. So, who is the main interest group in all this now that the public is weak in this process? Time will tell but I am sceptical it is outright citizen interest at least to all who are in support of the move. I say this because in most times the legislators in Kenya have acted in costly ways for the citizen, not sure if we are staring at another cost.

In addition to voters and politicians, public choice analyses the role of bureaucrats in government.

Their incentives explain why many regulatory agencies appear to be "captured" by special interests. The "capture" theory was introduced by the late George Stigler, a Nobel Laureate who did not work mainly in the public choice field.

The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer points to an “evaporation of trust” in institutions and leaders worldwide. The annual survey finds a decline in trust overall, with more countries classified as distrusting than trusting.

The government needs to come up with renewed trust to investors and other like-minded business entities that are not sure about the status of their premises.

As much as the authorities could be winning the trust of the public, could they be losing the trust of those who grease the economic wheel? Trust is built through specific attributes, which can be organised into five performance clusters: integrity, engagement, products and services, purpose and operations.