January 21, 2015 Mad Hatter

MR. PRESIDENT: SLOW PACE AND INDOLENCE IS THE DNA OF GOVERNMENT

Sometimes you get an impression that this is deliberate, perhaps there is secret profiteering that occurs when crises in this country peak. But sometimes, inaction stems from the unholy interests that are at center of these controversies. Monday’s display of police power points to a powerful figure at control. What is surprising, is that the police can be deployed at such scale without the inspector general being aware. One wonders whether he is in full command, or whether the police enjoy a different command structure.image

In the wake of the embarrassing teargas of school pupils and international condemnation, the President came out yesterday stating how he was outraged at the incident. While that is encouraging, what struck me were his words, “the most disappointing thin, is that we ever had to get there in the first place.” Here was a president surprised that a conflict that started a month ago could degenerate this far without his officers intervening.

If the President was surprised, he would have to be surprised even further, because such snail pace inaction and indolence is so characteristic of government and precisely the reason for multiple conflicts experienced in the country.

I served the better part of 2014 as President of Kenyatta University Students’ Council, and the most frustrating of all aspects of that responsibility was securing a response from government machineries. An attempt to engage government is painfully disappointing, most of its senior officials amazingly detached and their responses surprisingly shallow.

Around May in 2014, a journalist on Business Daily carried a story to the effect that university school fees would be reviewed upwards. Concerned I tabled the agenda at the National level in the student leadership forum and we crafted a path of response. I called the journalist to seek clarity of the story, and he directed me to Professor Some, the CEO of the Commission on University Education. Prof. Some noted that the story did not reflect his opinion. When I spoke with Prof. Some we reviewed the University Education Act, and noted that the body with the legal mandate to review university fee was nonexistent, and that the mandate still lay with respective universities.

So, to the extent that individual universities were not reviewing school fees, there was no need for the panic. I asked Prof. Some to come out and release a press statement to that effect, he never did it.
Frustrated, I reached out to the Principal Secretary Education, and gave him a brief, then called the cabinet secretary. No response was coming forth and tension was building. We released a press conference urging the cabinet secretary to publicly confirm that these discussions were not going on. We reached out to the chairperson of the Vice Chancellors committee and all confirmations were that the article was a strange creation.

At this point, a strike notice had been issued. Frustrated, I reached out to the chairperson of the Education committee Hon. Sabina Chege, the TNA chairperson Hon. Sakaja and finally the Presidents spokesperson.
No response was coming forth, and in a very disgusting turn, the cabinet secretary left for Botswana the day he was to release a public statement to the effect that no university fee was being increased.

At this point, the chairperson of the Education committee spoke with the president I believe, who gave his assurance that such had not happened. The very last day to the strike, is when we engaged the head of civil service then, Joseph Kinyua, was a call made to the cabinet secretary and a call was made to the Cabinet Secretary and he released a memo stating that the fee was not being reviewed at 6:45 PM barely 12 hours to the strike, and several universities had already mobilized and demonstrations that could have been averted happened.

My second experience with this indolence would then come to happen when HELB was delayed. Two months before resumption of school, an officer of the Board informed me that the Board had no funds, and was hoping to depend on recoveries to meet disbursement needs. Certainly, this was not going to work.

I raised the matter with a senior manager at the board who confirmed the fears. It became very clear to me that HELB did not have money, and could not raise the funds. So our energies for engagement were to refocus elsewhere.
As the first port of call, it was the ministry of Education, no response was coming forth. So we had a joint meeting with Hon. Johnson Sakaja, the PS Finance and the PS Education who guaranteed that funds will be released.
The week we were assured the funds would be disbursed approached. Reaching out to the Board, I was informed there was no indication that this would be honored. I got a few friends to call the cabinet secretary for Education to pressure him; as always, the response was a detached near dismissal.

One sector that gets disrupted with student demonstrations was the private sector. So I called the chairperson of the Private Sector Alliance Vimal Shah and asked for his intervention. He called the cabinet secretary, and the PS Finance who gave a reassurance again that the money would be released.

But as it approached Wednesday, I got alarmed again and reached the President through his spokesperson, this was the second time. It was a surprise to them because at that incident he believed the matter had been resolved.
It was not till Thursday evening, again 12 hours to the demonstration, that Charles Ringera the CEO HELB called me saying he is at central Bank and the matter had been released to City Bank before instructions could be released to other banks.

We had to call respective banks and ask them to call in their staff early morning Friday to start crediting the funds in a desperate attempt to avert another strike.

These examples, where a government awaits, ignores and simply does not care until a real conflict is in the view is so ingrained a culture in government that you really wonder why.

Sometimes you get an impression that this is deliberate, perhaps there is secret profiteering that occurs when crises in this country peak. But sometimes, inaction stems from the unholy interests that are at center of these controversies. Monday’s display of police power points to a powerful figure at control. What is surprising, is that the police can be deployed at such scale without the inspector general being aware. One wonders whether he is in full command, or whether the police enjoy a different command structure.

While the matter on the Langata piece of land has been in the public domain for over one month, as late as the day when Fidel Odinga was buried, the cabinet secretary for lands was overheard stating that she was not aware about that particular piece of land.

This leaves one wondering, what is the role of the digital communication unit in the presidency. Instead of concerning itself with which blogger has abused the president, this is an exciting space where real issues can be gathered and transmitted to government departments for quick action and such communicated back to the public real time.

The government’s response mechanism is slow and painful. Outright indolence if you ask me. And it will take way bolder a policy or action, than just an expression of disappointment.

On a purely political front, Jubilee for certain is becoming a master at crafting is own path to being unpopular. It is surprising.

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