Kenya

Degree boosts accountability

Degree boosts accountability

Education will make it easier for information to flow between the government and those they represent.

Photo credit: Pool

In yet another survey by Mzalendo (an independent entity), we learn that there are still MPs and senators who are mute. This lot do not utter a word at all, either in or out of Parliament. Then we have those, we are informed, who shout the loudest outside Parliament but remain mute inside. Mzalendo listed their names recently and some of the names that appeared on that list were surprising.

These are well-known political figures who one would have thought would be just as busy on the floor of the house debating on important national issues as they do in barazas. In their defence, some of the muted culprits felt it was not important to speak in Parliament as long as their development records spoke for themselves. Given the continued struggles of ordinary citizens, one wonders what development most politicians are talking about. Flying in a chopper to open a mud walled toilet does not count.

Another flew in just to commission a tiny wooden bridge in a village costing a fraction of his helicopter ride. We see them all around us, the flashy politicians who do more for themselves than for the citizens.

The other conversation that has been raging is whether a degree is important or not. I vote for a degree or two for everyone aspiring to represent our interests. I’m not talking about fake degrees for mute leaders, but real ones that give skills and training that would prepare the leaders well for their roles in Parliament. For starters, that would define what development is and its commensurate benefits to their constituents. One crucial character of an educated and intelligent (preferred combination) leader is that he can articulate issues to his/her constituents.

It’s fine for a politician to argue that they don’t have to make any contribution in Parliament, but they should still be expected to have direct communication with their constituents, something that’s not happening currently. How many citizens have email, telephones, or postal access to their MPs in Kenya? Most likely zero unless they are your friends.

Accountability starts at the grassroots and with the Freedom of Information Act now giving Kenyans the right to access information from government institutions, it beggars belief why MCAs, MPs, Senators and Governors don’t have direct communication with those they represent.

A lot of the bigger corruption cases that come out years later could be unearthed earlier if citizens had a route through which they could find information on the use of their taxes on projects in their communities. MPs with answers hold huge budgets for schools and hospitals for instance but believe they are not accountable to their electorates and, therefore, don’t have to be questioned by ordinary people. This is a serious anomaly that has been overlooked since the Kenyan Parliament was born.

Illiterate or semi-literate leader

With increase in literacy levels, it’s to be expected that most Kenyans have a fair amount of understanding of their rights. It should also be expected that those that lead them have fair number of skills and knowledge that would prepare them to answer to their voters. An illiterate or semi-literate leader could easily hide behind such weaknesses when faced with embezzlement claims. Illiteracy is not an excuse either to claim ignorance when caught trousering public funds.

Freedom of Information Act is crucial now more than ever as we embark on eradicating corruption. Education will make it easier for information to flow between the government and those they represent. It’s now a legal requirement of public office holders to provide information that would be of interest to the public to whoever demands it. Many times, governments have used ‘national security’ as a lame excuse for not divulging information even on an ongoing corruption concern.

Such information should be available to any resident in the country. I’ve come across situations where, for instance, charities run by white executives are denied documents or information because they are foreigners despite some of them being citizens and qualifying to engage with the State in an intimate way.

However, as we reinforce the rule on degrees for political aspirants, we also need to take cognisance of the fact that education in Kenya is not equitable. There are parts of the country where residents are still struggling to access education, let alone quality.

As Kenya embarks on co-hosting the Global Education Summit with the UK this year, she may need to seek support for those areas in Kenya left behind in education. It’s one thing to demand degrees for anyone aspiring to a political office but it’s another thing altogether to establish institutions of higher learning that are crucial at producing educated leaders. The system cannot reap where it did not sow.

As demand for leadership changes, Kenya needs to look into levelling the education sector so that every Kenyan would have equal opportunity to access education and contribute to creating accountability in government.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo