Friday, 30 August 2013

Judiciary and civil service vomiting on our shoes by sustaining eating culture by Maina Kiai

One of the interesting titbits in the standoff between Gladys Shollei and a faction within the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has been the revelation that each member of the JSC receives Sh80,000 as sitting allowance for every session.
This means that each time JSC convenes with all 12 members present, the Kenyan taxpayer is hit for Sh960,000! If JSC sits at least twice a week—in sub-committee or full sessions to deal with finance, recruitment, court cases etc—that translates to Sh7,680,000 per month, or Sh92,160,000 per year!
Every member who attends two sessions per week takes home Sh640,000 per month, for simply putting buttocks on a chair! One need not speak at the meeting or stay till the end! This is more than what most judges and magistrates make, they who sit day in, day out, listening to cases.
Of these 12 members, seven are public officers getting a regular pay check and for whom serving at the JSC is a logical part of their work!
Make no mistake: There can never be any transformation, reform, efficiency or progress when the underlying systems are as kleptomaniac as this. No number of documents, philosophies or reports can take away the fact that this “eating” can only lead to maintaining status quo.
This fundamental attitude then gives rise to other issues perpetuating corruption: cronyism, nepotism, and patronage. For if you earn an easy Sh700,000 a month simply for sitting, and on top of your other income as a judge, magistrate, lawyer, registrar or retired politician, why not go the whole hog and treat the public purse as an ATM? It is a very thin line to cross.
Hence the utter lack of shame when the JSC approves purchase of a house for Sh350 million when houses in Muthaiga go for Sh150 million.
Or that Supreme Court judges are provided with lunch and breakfast everyday catered by Serena Hotel. Or that a senior judge trades with the Judiciary as a supplier.
Sadly, it is not only the JSC that treats our taxes as personal ATMs. Parliament and the civil service are probably better at this. Now parliamentarians are convening as many sessions as they can so that they can sit and “eat” our taxes.
Thus, for instance, interviews for public positions are treated as separate sessions for each interview so as to maximise on the eating. And it is this urge to sit that motivates parliamentary committees to convene for anything under the sun, at the slightest provocation.
As the joke around town goes, for MPs “checks and balances mean cheques that improve their bank balances.”
For civil servants, the impetus is creating as many cross-ministerial committees, task forces, panels as possible to maximise on allowances and per diems. It is about having as many forums outside the station to get per diems.
There is a former staffer at the Attorney General’s office who was nicknamed “Mr Per Diem” for his efforts to ensure he attended, for the shortest time possible, every meeting of every parastatal that required the presence of the Attorney General. He would go in and sign off, and then leave for yet another parastatal meeting, assured that his allowances were made.
Foreign travel is the icing on the cake for this eating and it no wonder that “study tours,” an area of contention within the JSC, are more common than anything else. For here, our senior public officers beat the richest nations on earth in terms of the amount of per diems they receive.
This gravy train of allowances, for sitting, standing, smiling, and just being, must stop. The system today is not about service but about selfishness.
While taxpayers have been a humble lot, this vomiting on our shoes will have consequences, unless Sarah Serem can stop it.

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