Successes of social accountability
There were enough examples of positive impact from social accountability interventions in all three countries for it to be worthwhile continuing and expanding their application. In Kenya, for instance, in the county of Laikipia, it was found by CSO workers that the amount spent on pre-primary education was miniscule, even though a larger amount had been budgeted in line with national guidelines. Pre-primary schools were inspected and shown to be very substandard. In particular, the photos of collapsing toilets, which scared children away from using them, provided a strong argument. A combination of publicly displaying the vastly underexpended budget, public meetings to complain about poor facilities and veiled threats to report the county’s practices to the local parliament and the Ministry of Education resulted in a revised and improved budget allocation that citizens monitored.
Furthermore, all the countries of East Africa have ver)' large youthful populations: over 60% of Kenyans, for instance, are under 25 years old. They understand poorly the governance systems of their own country, although these are taught in primary and secondary schools as “Civic Education”, and young people are already disengaged, disgruntled and effectively disenfranchised. Any other civic education takes place at the time of elections and is often very heavily politicised, providing polarised information to party political supporters’ groups.
Maladministration or corruption
It is often said that poor public service delivery derives from government officials’ lack of knowledge and understanding of the complex rules and regulations that govern, for instance, education, health, agricultural extension and social welfare provisions. Not only do the intended recipients of government services not know what they should be receiving, and thus cannot accurately ask for them, but also those responsible for providing these services are ignorant of the
East Africa, 2018-19 199 rules and regulations and provide confusing, inconsistent and unfair services, which have important implications for very poor citizens. A further aspect of maladministration is that government officials do not seek to meet their constituents or listen to their concerns. Their lack of interest, in turn, discourages their constituents from interacting with them.
It was, however, the strong opinion of the experienced fieldworkers that a failure to deliver the rights and entitlements of citizens was based on attitudes, and these were the result of conscious and proactive corruption. Corrupt government officials sought to augment their income by holding back free services from the poor and turning these into cash for themselves. Teachers and headmasters who invented illegal levies for students and their parents to pay were pocketing the money, as were nurses and doctors who sold free drugs from the government in nearby commercial pharmacies; contractors who paid backhanders to win bids for local construction projects were paying themselves and local government employees extra income taken from government budgets meant for local development.
Few fieldworker participants in social accountability workshops are surprised when the discussions open up into the subject of corruption at local government levels. They know it takes place and they know it is common — in fact, they know that it is the norm. They are frustrated not to know what they can do about it, and they do not believe that the ideas of social accountability will be effective in accomplishing reform. In fact, a number of fieldworkers questioned the value of trying to reverse what they considered as something that was well established and, in practice, inconsequential in the management of local government.
From time to time we had people contribute to the discussion by saying: “Salaries of teachers [or nurses or policemen] are very low and it is to be expected that they need to augment them by kitu kidogo” — a Swahili term literally meaning “a little thing” and the accepted phrase to mean a bribe or corrupt payment. Others strongly countered this argument by pointing out that the income of farmers and cattlemen, faced with drought and epidemics, is far worse than that of government officials and they should certainly not have to pay extra fees, which are illegal — even if they are only “a little thing”.