Graft sits comfortably at the top of Kenya’s national ethos. When President Uhuru Kenyatta says this, we feel uncomfortable. We get very angry with him. The facts, however, would hardly be different if somebody else said the same thing. The only significant difference is that Kenyans expect President Kenyatta to lead in the fight against this horrific culture.
Within the Jubilee Alliance, the political consensus is that they are doing something about it. Elsewhere, the perception is that Jubilee has lost the fight. Some even accuse the government for sponsoring corruption. Last year the president declared corruption a national disaster. He invited every citizen to be enjoined in the war against this scourge. Yet very little of practical import seems to be happening. Yes, names have been floated and a few people have appeared in court. But that is as far as it goes. Given our track record, there is cause to fear that we are going nowhere.
This week’s release of last year’s KCSE results has reminded us that our children are watching us. We are reminded of the saying that when mother cow is chewing cud, the calf looks at her mouth. Soon, the calf will also begin moving its labials in rhythm with the mother. Kenyan children have been watching the eating adult mouths. They have clearly taken up our bad habits. Some 5,101 candidates did not get their results, because of cheating in the exams. The rate of cheating rose by an astronomical 70 percent over the previous year. This is horrendous.
The school is the nursery where our future attitudes, habits and practices are cultivated. Stealing exams casts the school as the breeding ground for future grand thieves. To its huge discredit, the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) kept denying the theft last year. It is puzzling that they should now come out to give statistics of who cheated.
Clearly, all is not well at the KNEC. Even as the Ministry of Education metes out punishment to the children, KNEC officials should also bite the bullet. If the CEO cannot identify the reprobates in his office, he should step down. His officials have failed Kenyans. If he does not know which ones of his officers were involved, he needs to bite the bullet on behalf of the council. He must fall on his sword. He cannot sit well with his conscience as the youth pay for delinquency that began with the KNEC.
The Education Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, brought to the fore another disturbing challenge in the public school system. Over the past three years, the government has spent KShs. 9 billion on equipping public schools. Most of this money has gone towards books. Yet the ratio of books to children is one book for every five children. What this means is that the government’s noble objective one book per child has not been realized. We are still where we were in 2002, when the current public schools book cycle began.
I had the privilege of serving as the chair of the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) at this time. A revised 8 – 4 – 4 syllabus began being implemented in 2003. The rollout matured in 2006. At the start, the target ratio of the book to the child was one book per five children. It was expected that within five years, there would be enough books in schools to see every child allocated a book to himself or herself. Tragically this has not happened.
If my reader is surprised, I am not. As the KPA chair, I raised the alarm bells as early as 2003. By the end of 2004, things were totally out of hand. While the Ministry of Education delighted in announcing that billions of shillings had been released to schools for book purchases, publishers continued to be lumbered with books. Investigations by KPA revealed a conspiracy involving schools, bookshops and omnivorous education officials.
Accordingly, booksellers would invoice schools for books they had not supplied. The schools would authorise the education office to pay. Payment would be made and the loot shared. It was appalling that publishers’ efforts to bring this malpractice to the attention of Jogoo House fell on indifferent-to-deaf ears. Not even the development partners who funded the project to the tune of KShs. 9 billion in the first two years alone were interested in listening to the publishers.
Audits were falsified and false returns made. The cheating and stealing continued. By 2011 the British had woken up to the reality. They demanded a refund of up to KShs. 4.5 billion that had been looted. The government returned the money. Some junior fellows from Jogoo House were paraded in court as the thieves. The matter eventually died a natural death, leaving the taxpayer a couple of billion shillings poorer.
The Ministry of Education’s decision to take a fresh look into the working of the school books supply system is a welcome move, coming a little late – but better late than never. The school books supply system is at once a gravy train and a looters’ paradise. Serious booksellers are now wary of stocking books. For few public schools buy from them. It will surprise the Education CS that the captains of theft in schools sit with him right there in Jogoo House. Their networks run all the way to the schools, through county offices. They are complexly wired to bookshops and to auditors, whose only audit interest is the brown envelope in the head teacher’s drawer.
Yes, when it comes to theft, Kenyans have special honours. I don’t know whether President Kenyatta will hack it. It requires decisive ruthlessness to end this thing. When you discover that the night runners in the village are your relatives and bosom friends, will you disclose your findings to an irate village? This is the question President Kenyatta and CS Matiang’i must confront.