Public servants: Be careful, not arrogant

In Summary

• Experience and success in the private sector does not necessarily prepare you well for a senior public service job.

•Public Service is a specialized area with its own rules that you do not know until you get in.

EACC chief executive Twalib Mbarak.
EACC chief executive Twalib Mbarak.
Image: FILE

I have been watching many young Chief Executives of parastatals and senior government officials being arrested to answer questions of corruption. It always starts with leaks in the press and elsewhere about problems within the organisation. We then pick bits and pieces in Parliament, blogs and sometimes in public rallies. Soon, EACC and or DCI invites them to come in for clarification on some tenders or another.

It is interesting to watch a young, relatively new manager, on the basis of assuming that he or she is protected by a “ big man “, begins by arrogantly refusing to be cooperative. He will even brag to his staff, family, journalists and junior investigators of how “ untouchable “ he is ! The basis of this “ confidence “ is that he comes from the clan or tribe of the big man. The “ big man “ may even have broken the rules in order to have the board of directors hire that particular CEO.

When investigations get hot, often as a result of public pressure, the “ big man “ is publicly nowhere to be found. I am not saying that the “ big man “ does not help quietly behind the scenes, because he often does, until he sees the dangers to his own image. The once confident CEO or senior government official is next seen seated in the court fighting for his survival before being shipped to some police remand. If he is lucky, he will get bail that he can manage to pay, but sometimes he may be in remand for a couple of days.

In the Kenyan case, he may never even go beyond making several appearances in court before the attendances fizzle out.I have always wondered loudly as to why they do not learn from those others who have previously gone through the same path. There is something in-built in humans, I think, that makes them believe that they are cleverer than their predecessors and that they cannot make the same mistakes. But they do.I have, over the years advised such upcoming people, especially the young ones, to be very careful on getting hired in senior positions in the public service. Public service has its owners. If you come from outside the Service and assume that you are more knowledgeable than those that you find there, you will be making a big, big mistake. You will politely be allowed to make mistakes that will in the end cost you the job, and if you are not careful, a jail term. Take time to understand the environment that you enter and be humble enough to learn. We once had a “ Dream Team “ that was sent by the World Bank to manage Kenya and we all saw the problems that it faced.Secondly, the fact that you are brought in by a “ big man “ does not mean that you should throw your weight around unwisely.

His interests may not be your long term interests. You may have a young family and wishing to be a national success story one day just like him. Your godfather may be an older person who has learned the tricks of the trade and will misuse you for his own benefits. He will, for example, give you verbal instructions on how to adjudicate a tender, and in a desire to please him, you will break all procurement rules. Your juniors who appear to be timid under you are the ones who will act as whistle blowers on you.

Thirdly, experience and success in the private sector does not necessarily prepare you well for a senior public service job. Public Service is a specialized area with its own rules that you do not know until you get in. Your many degrees and specialized qualifications are important but if you do not quickly learn how to handle the people you find there, those degree will be of no use. All you have to do is look at some of those who have travelled your route and how they ended.So, if you are a young upcoming big boss, my advise is that you follow your instincts irrespective of how you got the job. Let you sixth sense be your guide on how to act.

Yes, you will get into trouble with your bosses who give you “ impossible to implement instructions “ but the chances are that you will avoid EACC and DCI.I know what am talking about. I was CEO of Kenya Airways at the age of thirty nine, with a much bigger procurement budget than several ministries put together. I refused to be misused. I was eventually given the sack, but I have continued to hold my head high. The choice of how to act in above situations is squarely yours.

If you chose to be a nice guys so as to get rich quickly, then there will be consequences that may include a few years in jail and possibly losing you wealth and reputation.The writer is a former Cabinet Minister and vied for the Presidency in the 2017 General Election.