TOKENISM

We don’t need MPs’ cash to fight virus

Offers temporary solution and can conceal weaknesses in public funds management.

In Summary
  • The fact that public leaders can turn to their salaries instead of national budget instruments should concern us.
  • History demonstrates that governing by tokenism did not lead to economic growth nor strengthen institutions. 
Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa flags off trucks of relief food in Lodwar.
DROUGHT: Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa flags off trucks of relief food in Lodwar.
Image: HESBORN ETYANG

The recent presidential announcement to take a pay cut during the struggle against Covid-19 risk setting a bad political precedence. Other political leaders have come out to announce similar initiatives.

In one constituency, for example, an MP claimed to have spent his personal resources to buy water tanks to improve hygiene in the constituency. Interestingly though, like in campaigns, his name is emblazoned on the tanks, instead of Covid-19.

As tokens, amid the Covid-19 outbreak, this money only offers temporary solution and can conceal weaknesses in the strategic and sustainable management of public funds.  

The public needs to be more critical to distinguish when a government official acts as a person and when in an official capacity. Distinguishing the two is important as it empowers the public to identify gaps in governance. A salary is private money therefore any forfeiture should be understood as a personal act.

It is important for the public to recognise such steps. However, it is even more necessary to require services expected and entitled through tax revenue. Raising this awareness will restrain the trend of governing by tokenism and empower proactive citizenship. One way to achieve this is by defining in law circumstances politicians can forfeit salaries for a public programme.

The Kenyan law is obscure when it comes to defining and terming the practice of politicians using their salaries to boost public service. In the absence of a clear policy on politicians' forfeited salaries, that practice risks being used as political bait. The public service also risks lending itself to political patronage as those in it struggle to demonstrate political support to the government of the day.

However, it is even more necessary to require services expected and entitled through tax revenue. Raising this awareness will restrain the trend of governing by tokenism and empower proactive citizenship. One way to achieve this is by defining in law circumstances politicians can forfeit salaries for a public programme.

The Public Service Commission, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, and Law Society of Kenya should lead policy debate to discuss the basis for public salaries philanthropy. Also, the public messaging about a public official’s voluntary forfeiture of salary should, just like hate speech, be administratively regulated. 

The fact that public leaders can turn to their salaries instead of national budget instruments should concern us. There are serious concerns on public finance management that continue to weaken government's financial position. For instance, in November 2019 the Parliamentary Budget Office identified 10 key budgetary issues in the supplementary budget estimate 1 for the FY 2019-20.

The PBO noticed instances where programmes' reallocations exceeded the 10 per cent legally allowed in the PFM Act, 2012. It also mentioned that new expenditures were introduced in the supplementary budget despite no declared sources of financing. The PBO also mentioned that there were too many revisions occurring within a financial year, which risked lowering the credibility of the budget and budgeting process.

Such issues may contribute and lead to financial mismanagement, further weakening Kenya’s financial position. Reversing these trends can make Kenya less dependent on ‘portions’ of public service salary cuts.

 

The practice of using private resources to solve public problems is not new in Kenya. In the 1990s writers observing then President Moi’s era termed the practice political tokenism. Learning from then, history demonstrates that governing by tokenism did not lead to economic growth nor strengthen institutions.