Monday, February 8, 2010

FPE: It's the System Stupid!

Currently, there is a scandal raging in Kenya regarding Free Primary Education (FPE) program funds. Basically dishonest Ministry of Education officials have used certain bureaucratic tools (fake expense reports, fake receipts, fake workshops etc) to misappropriate funds.

Since the scandal came to light, there has been a lot of back and forth (along party lines) about whether the minister and PS in the education ministry should resign. Two basic arguments spring to my mind when I think of this matter.

On the one hand, if neither the minister nor the PS stole funds, then their responsibility is to ensure that the perpetrators of the theft are caught and dealt with and the loopholes that were exploited are closed so that there is no chance of repeat occurrences again.

On the other hand, this occurred under their watch. They are the men in charge of the ministry. It is the minister and more-so the PS whose job it is to manage the ministry. As such, is it not management's job to ensure that the systems and procedures in place are designed such that theft etc do not take place? Having failed to design (or oversee the design of) a system that does so can be considered a failure and as such they should quit.

This internal debate (the second point more than the first) has led me to feel like this issue (and many others) is being approached and dealt with all wrong.

Quite apart from the petty politicizing, playing to the gallery and grandstanding that we have been seeing; rather than media jumping on a high horse and MoE Minister & PS in turn being defensive and saying nothing more meaningful than "I will not resign", perhaps we need to be talking about systems, processes and procedures in place.

Assuming they personally did not steal, I would like to hear from the PS/Minister exactly what the system for dealing with funds is in his ministry as well as what processes and procedures are followed in the procurement process. I want to know how, where and why the system failed. I want to know what action he is taking or has taken to ensure that these loopholes are closed. If the PS and/or Minister have not got comprehensive answers to these questions, then I would like to see him/them fired. Simple.

My simple belief is this, we live and die by the system. A good system will be efficient but will also eliminate leeway for there to be system failures caused by individuals. Too often in Kenya, we get stuck pointing fingers at individuals but fail to realize that it is poorly designed & implemented systems that let us down the most. We do not live in a utopia where everyone is 100% honest. As such we must create systems that force catching any dishonesty early and by ensuring that those responsible are brought to book quickly.

We need an appointment and performance appraisal system in place that picks the right candidates for jobs and accurately rates their performance in the management of our institutions. We need a system that does not in any way indulge non performance. From top to bottom.

Can we please start debating how to make this happen instead of forever focusing on petty politics and individuals?