There have been numerous surveys examining the experience and perceptions of citizens with respect to their interactions with public service delivery in various sectors. Sadly, the report card is not very flattering to the government. Many citizens still complain of lack of essential services, inaccessibility, and poor attitude among staff in public offices to an extent that they are disillusioned and have now learnt to manage their expectations or explore alternatives.
Good and adequate services is not a privilege that the government decides to dish out whimsically to people based on their loyalty. Adequate water supply, good roads, garbage collection, health services, education, a clean environment , security among others are not the preserve of a few, it’s a right every citizen is entitled to.
Recently a friend shared with me a sad but hilarious story. They were scheduled to host visitors on a Sunday afternoon. They had been without water for an entire week when suddenly they heard the sound of water running in the taps, the wife automatically went into ululations thanking God for the water. The husband looked at her in shock bemused she was celebrating something that they should ordinarily have as a right.
In every organized society like Kenya, the relationship between the citizens and the government can best be described as a social contract, an implicit agreement between the governed and the government defining and limiting the rights and duties of each. For the relationship to work under this arrangement, both the governed and the government need to be acutely aware of their expectations and obligations.
Under this relationship, citizens expect the government to provide certain basic services like education, health, water, security, good infrastructure among others. On the other hand, the government should legitimately expect the citizens to dutifully pay taxes and support the government.
Sadly, provision of these basic services has been used as a campaign tool, a carrot dangled only to woo people to support the government. It becomes a privilege only a few people can enjoy in exchange for their vote or political support. These services have mostly being inaccessible to many people especially the poor and the powerless who rely on the government for the most basic of things.
In the old days of the centralized government, regions that supported the government of the day enjoyed ‘maendeleo’ while those who chose the opposition were generally marginalized. The new constitution guarantees equitable distribution of resources irrespective of political orientation and key government services have been devolved to the counties.
Citizens must learn to expect and demand quality and efficient public service delivery in government offices, both at the national and county levels. They must insist to be served promptly whenever they visit public offices and remind any lazy or rude officers that their primary role is to serve them and that their jobs and offices are maintained by their money as tax payers.
To give credit where it’s due, the introduction of Huduma Centers in several counties has improved service delivery. However, this has only served to expose the great hunger and demand for easily accessible government services. Unfortunately, these services are still not accessible to the majority. The reforms must go deep enough to translate the expectations of Kenyans into meaningful results by helping to bring public services closer to the people.
The reforms must also include attitude change among civil servants. They must tackle the entrenched vices of corruption and inefficiency as citizens become empowered to demand for better services. Kenyans should reasonably expect every civil servant whose role is to provide public services, to do so efficiently and professionally without demanding or expecting a bribe. Power concedes nothing without demand.
This article first appeared in the DAILY NATION on Dec 19 , 2016.