It cannot be that a person from a certain village, when they exit public office, is replaced by another person from the same village, went a paraphrased comment from Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetangula, during the debate in the Senate that approved Joseph Boinett as the Inspector General of Police.
That comment reverberates with how many senior public appointments are being treated. It seems it comes down to ethnic arithmetic. The Boinett appointment is the most recent example. Many others including that of Interior and Coordination of National Government Cabinet Secretary come to mind.
The public is about the whole of a country, not a specific, probably politically correct ethnic community. It is about how national interests are safeguarded by all these communities. Balancing of public appointments is crucial to recognition of diversity.
Above the need to recognize and appreciate diversity is the need to ensure that meritocracy informs public appointments. Merit is about providing opportunities to people based on their qualifications; both academic and experience in that field.
Addressing this issue starts with having a process that is above board. When the individual shows interest in an office, due diligence must be done to check their stated qualifications vis-à-vis fidelity to compliance. For instance, questions were raised about the academic qualifications from the institutions that Boinett is said to have graduated from. Apparently, MPs did not probe the issue much during the vetting process.
So far, the need for interested persons in public offices to have clearance from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) are useful considerations to guide the suitability of a candidate. These requirements help to weed out candidates who have questionable pasts from holding public office.
However, public office goes beyond these requirements because of three main issues.
First is the need for openness. This is the expectation that anyone who is capable of holding a position is given a fair consideration. The kind of patronage being practiced makes it an exercise in futility since some qualified individuals will opt out knowing their ethnicity will disfavor them.
Secondly is the need for public interest. Public interest is best served when qualified individuals are appointed. They have the blessings of everyone and this support ensures they can better deliver. When the process is compromised, the interest is not necessarily that of the public but the political elite.
Thirdly is accountability. Accountability of public officers is to the Constitution and the people not certain individuals. An accountable public officer is shielded from political machinations and protected by the rule of law. Such an individual works well knowing that their actions of commission and omission have to be for public good.
At a time when the country is still healing from ethnic and political divisions, spewing bigoted hate on social media and feeling disenfranchised from the national cake, public appointments go a long way of showing them how inclusive a government is. Short of this is condoning patriarchy and clientelism, bad governance practices that have ruined independence Kenya in it’s over five decades of existence.