Thursday, May 29, 2008

Is The Electoral Commission Now Competent?

Only a few weeks ago, the ECK was under a barrage of fiery criticism for its shoddy handling of last year’s general election. Samuel Kivuitu, the aging face of the commission, even faced the ignominy of being hounded out of various facilities by crowds in Mombasa who did not spare him some choice epithets. And unlike the period prior to the polls, not even the media crews were seeking him out for his wise cracks. For a moment, the old man and his team seemed to have been written off as unfit for public office and culpable for criminal negligence. But only for a moment.

As is typical of our national capacity to stomach crass ineptitude in our institutions for the sake of “love, peace and unity”, “healing and reconciliation” or some such other philosophy, the dangerous (in)actions of ECK during last years poll are gently being swept under the carpet. Indications are that the Kriegler commission is destined to perform a time consuming glossing over exercise that will land us with yet another report to study. Kriegler, Kivuitu and the government have, in any case, confirmed that investigating ECK with a view to recommend their removal from office or otherwise is not within their mandate.

Meanwhile, Kivuitu and his team are going about their business without an iota of remorse for the December election fiasco. They are in fact putting the final touches to preparations for by-elections on 11 July for which our political parties are getting ready to rumble. The same parties that two months ago were swearing that the ECK “could not be trusted to conduct elections even for a village cattle-dip committee”. What has changed to make the Kivuitu team acceptable? Probably the comforts of high office in the ungainly coalition have blunted their discernment and shifted their loyalties.

The tragedy is that somewhere down the line, the same see-no-evil-hear-no-evil coterie of myopic politicians will be seeking to mobilize citizens against the same institutions they are now abetting in crime and emasculating.

There is a generation that should read through these silly political games and consciously choose to have nothing to do with them for they portend a grim future.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Our Ministers Don't Know

Ministers and state corporation chiefs who were ranked as poor performers in last year’s evaluation report released last week are up in self-righteous indignation. They’re taking every opportunity at public events to rave and rant with spectacular idiocy about their ‘unfair persecution’ which to me seems only to further validate the report.

First of all, the fora at which they are delivering their defenses are inappropriate for their hoity-toity posturing and to me, fellows who cannot sort out what to say, where to say it or when to say it are quite obviously ill-equipped to manage their dockets within defined parameters. As politicians they are obviously tempted to open their mouths whenever or wherever they see a microphone even when ordinary common sense would dictate that they just stay quiet.

Some of the jarring noise makers do not even seem to know what they are defending, especially seeing that they were not even in charge of those dockets or even in government when the evaluations were carried out. Like one Wycliffe Oparanya (planning and vision 2030) who was appointed minister just a few weeks ago and now says that the evaluation criteria were/are vague. I do not know the extent of his brotherly love that nudges him to defend the poor performance of the previous manager but why did he sign a vague contract upon his own appointment this year? Rather than outline his strategy for better performance this year, the man is poking at the Nairobi City Council for being rated best amongst the local government authorities because “Nairobi is the filthiest town in the country”. How he arrives at that dubious assessment and where he found the time or competence to undertake the evaluation is unknown. Suffice it to say that it demonstrates the widespread inability of our politicians to focus on the job at hand, their busybody-inclination to spend a lot of their time foraging in other peoples’ turf.

Like Moses Wetangula (Foreign Affairs) who says he undertook trade negotiations with Iranian businesses to import Kenyan meat and also discussed packages with European tourism groups to send tourists to Kenya. The credit, he says, will reflect positively on his counterparts’ performance and not his. He does not say where he finds the time or impetus to carry out other ministers’ duties and leave his on autopilot then come round to plead that “I do not know the criteria used” in the evaluation. And of course, since he did not know the criteria, it follows that “I do not know why the ministry was among the poor performers”. The ministry for foreign affairs wasn’t just among the poor performers, it was the worst. Granted though, the man at the helm for the evaluation period was one Raphael Tuju whose haughtiness did not endear him to many as the country’s top diplomat. Wetangula was Tuju’s able(?) assistant at the time and since taking over the docket this year, has been treading the same path with arrogant posturing and regular diplomatic gaffes as if to out-do his predecessor. Obviously, a legal background has not refined the man’s presentation which is tragic as it debunks widespread citizen’s hopes that the time for a younger, more educated generation to manage the country was nigh.

Clearly, change in management style will certainly not be achieved with the likes of Mwangi Kiunjuri who seems slated to spend yet another stint in government as a cheerleader rather than a leader. A teacher by profession, Kiunjuri attempted to illustrate his disapproval of the evaluation criteria thus;

"One needs to look at the targets the ministries set vis-à-vis their achievement. If my ministry set out to build 100 dams but built only 50, while someone else set a target to sink 50 boreholes, but surpassed this to 100, they will be judged differently. Further, we must look at the resources required for the two targets before ranking them on the scale of success and failure,"

Kiunjuri’s illustration may seem to have a tinge of rustic cleverness although it is in fact foolish. It is an argument adopted by many of his colleagues who fared badly in the exercise and demonstrates an unacceptable level of ignorance about quality management amongst the ministers.

While a good number of working citizens have been keeping pace with worldwide developments in implementation of various quality assurance systems like the ISO standards, our politicians have been sleeping on the job only to wake up for spurts of unedifying tomfoolery. The Prime Minister, under whose office the management of the evaluation exercise now falls, must find a way to bring these neanderthal MPs up to speed if they are to play a meaningful role in managing this country. It is absurd to continue paying seven figure salaries, or any salary at all, to public officials who openly admit that they do not know or understand their job descriptions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Raila embarks on 'big man' journey

Last weekend’s homecoming parties by Raila served to point to the steadily decreasing capacity of Kenya’s politicians to feel the pulse of their supporters. His purported razor-sharp intelligence network obviously hadn’t prepared him for the booing and heckling by the disenchanted crowds at the stadium when he attempted to defend his coalition arrangement with Kibaki. And without objective analysts on the ground to pick up the signs of a disillusioned support base, he is perhaps relying on our print media’s worn-out descriptions of the Kisumu crowds as fanatical. So with new power trappings in tow, he might just have been expecting quite a bit of worship from the massive turnout. But it was not to be and, courtesy of his restless audience, he ended up giving what seemed like his shortest speech in recent times. For a man who likes to have the last word, that must have been quite humbling. But then again, what can possibly humble a politician, hard boiled in Kenya, whose motives are increasingly coming out as not only self-serving but outrageously short-sighted? As if all that ever mattered to him was to be Kenya’s Prime Minister. Or President.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the coalition agreement he signed with Kibaki was a rushed hotchpotch of a document that is not likely to survive the stresses and strains of ODM/PNU politics. As if it was drafted by first year law students, it is now emerging that it has many glaring loop-holes and grey areas which are likely to occupy our parliamentarians with endless sideshows for the next five years. (Like the crass war of protocol between him and Kalonzo.) Did either of the bigwigs actually read and understand the document or did they sign under duress from Kofi Annan/US? Kibaki obviously saw the chance for a let off and rushed in to buy time (another 5 years) and a deck hand to clean his mess. What about Raila? What was he rushing into? He has been talking himself hoarse about some half-a-loaf ideology to justify his rush into the Kibaki government but last weekend was the Kisumu folks’ turn to tell him that they did not buy it. Did he listen?

Probably not. At least going by his subsequent utterances which displayed his bizarre distaste for dissent. The man has spent his entire political life in the opposition ranks professing its essence and virtues and fighting for the rights of those with different opinion to be heard. Now that he is Prime Minister he wants the Luo to conform to government and discard their ‘opposition mentality’. In other words, the Luo should not question Raila because he knows what is good for them. And they don’t?! And now that they (ODM?) are running the government, development will now come to Luo Nyanza. Is he intending to preside over selective development programs, like the previous governments that tended to sideline opposition zones?

What the Kisumu folks seem to be telling the man is that he is rushing headlong into Kibaki’s bungling ways for which he will take the rap. That he needs to consult the people and quit the ‘messiah’ posturing. Unless he thinks he can do without them, which he probably does, in which case he should keep it just that - a thought.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Kenya Airways Safety Queries.

Kenya Airways management is unhappy with recent newspaper reports of increase in safety incidents for its fleet during the first three months of the year. The airline however concedes that the data quoted in the reports was actually extracted from its own leaked safety documents. It seems therefore that the management is unhappy that this information has been made public, not that it has many safety issues.

This comes hot on the heels of reports that a KQ plane overshot the runway at Entebbe just last week. And a few weeks after the remains of Kenyan crew and passengers from last years crash in Cameroon were returned to Nairobi. Coupled with last week’s failure of landing lights at the Moi Airport, which is now a regular mishap, one may understand their unhappiness. As they put it in a newspaper advert, the media was creating ‘panic and fear’ amongst its passengers.

In an effort to allay these, CEO Titus Naikuni held a press conference on Sunday at which he sought to downplay the reported incidents as insignificant. That although there were 135 incidents as reported, they should have been put in the “correct context” as per the “measuring indices for airline incident reporting”. According to KQ these are not just 135 incidents. They are 135 incidents out of 7396 sectors flown. So what bwana Naikuni?! At what level do the numbers become significant to cause real ‘panic and fear’? 1000 over 7396? 2000 over 7396? 50%? What?

And he downplays them further saying that only three of these incidents were “hazardous” using their internal risk assessment. While these were rectified, the other 132 were… what… just noted? Which safety standards are these that have such tolerance for mishaps? The insignificant cases included;

  • Unruly passenger behavior – which could be a distraction for cabin staff/passengers before a terrorist take-over…
  • Communication problems with some flight information regions – if this is not “hazardous”, what is?
  • Bird strikes – which have been known to disable plane engines?
  • Technical issues – which ones? Failed pilot instruments for example?

None of these are minor issues or insignificant. In matters of safety, even one incident alone should be significant enough to warrant full attention by top management and to instigate mitigating action. Air disasters do not just happen. They are the culmination of a chain of events that start with ‘just a minor incident’.

KQ can only classify its safety reports as top company secret to its detriment. An increasingly informed public will not hesitate to make carrier options if they perceive that KQ’s safety management is cavalier. If indeed it is committed to aviation safety as it says it is, it should be encouraging the traveling public to participate in the ‘aggressive reporting culture’ it allegedly has in place. Not engaging in defensive posturing against supposedly ‘malicious media’ advocating the ‘interests of competitor airlines’.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Kalonzo at sea

Faced with a nation wide strike by prison warders this early in his watch, miracle man Kalonzo appeared momentarily at his wits end as he feebly declared it an act of mutiny. Not to be cowed, the ‘undisciplined’ officers laughed off his declaration even as they dismissed the committee he had cobbled up to study their demands. After a futile attempt at tough talking and apparently overwhelmed by the unfolding crisis, the minister quickly announced that their demands would be met promptly.

From the unfortunate events, I actually think Kalonzo has no management skills to boast of, never mind his numerous contentions to the contrary during his presidential campaigns. Granted, he has only recently been appointed to head the ministry in charge of prisons but with all the years in cabinet, he cannot possibly cry for time to ‘study’ the situation in those facilities. Certainly not for a man who wanted/wants to be president. The man simply hasn’t taken some time to figure out priority activities in his portfolio, preferring instead to follow the president around. He did quite a lot of that during Moi’s time, cheering along and letting the old man do the managing of just about every department. Kibaki most certainly won’t do that for him and he knows it. But will he let go off the old man’s coat tails for some work? No. Why? Raila will hog all the limelight.

And what happened to his determination to preside over a generational change in positions of leadership? He did not even seem to pause for reflection as he selected members for the prisons committee. It is business as usual for the ruling elite. Retirees, cronies and conflicting interests in appointments. Is Kalonzo capable of change? Or as he put it in his campaigns, a ‘paradigm shift’? I say no. Will he learn anything from Uncle Moody’s and Kamakil’s snub? Not with his increasing haughtiness.