Do Not Commercialize Public Service, CSOs Tell Government.

NAIROBI, May 7, 2024

Civil society organizations (CSOs) from around the world gathered in Nairobi to deliberate on the state of public service in Africa ahead of the 2024 United Nations Civil Society Conference (UNCSC), set to take place in Kenya’s capital on May 9-10. The forum addressed the pressing issue of public service commercialization and its adverse effects on citizens, particularly in Kenya.

In the last four decades, Africa—and Kenya in particular—has experienced a surge in the privatization of public services by governments, often to the detriment of the populace. Participants at the Nairobi meeting highlighted critical areas including education, health, water, tax, and climate change mitigation.

Kenyan delegates noted that the commercialization of public services has disproportionately impacted indigenous communities. Irene Asuwa from the Nairobi Water Network articulated the broader implications:

“Public service systems form the backbone of our society, supporting the private sector. If these systems are skewed, the provision and affordability of every other service dependent on public services will be compromised.”

Chronic underfunding, lack of political will, and pervasive corruption were identified as significant obstacles to the efficient delivery of public services. Many individuals convicted or implicated in corruption cases seek political positions to evade accountability, further hindering public service efficacy.

Boaz Waruku of the Elimu Bora Working Group described the dire state of public services in Kenya:

“The public service is in total disarray, whether in education, water, health, or social care. Many functional components are privately managed. The government has largely abandoned its role in education, forcing Kenyans to rely on private schools that claim to offer superior services, which is not necessarily true.”

Boaz Waruku, a member of the Elimu Bora Working Group speaking during the 2024 UNCSC pre-event held on May 7, 2024, in Nairobi.

Salome Terah of DACE Nairobi suggested that the government should regulate the fees charged by private schools, acknowledging their integral role in the current educational landscape.

Everline Aketch, Education Support & Cultural Workers Officer and Sub-regional Secretary for English-Speaking Africa at Public Service International, commended ActionAid for its research on education in Africa, which paints a bleak picture of the continent’s public services.

“Public services have become conduits for profit rather than service provision. Corruption has been institutionalized, with prices for basic items often grossly inflated during procurement. The lack of political will is evident in the collapse of Edu-Afya, a medical insurance cover for students, as politicians involved in the insurance industry prioritize profits over affordable services,” Waruku added.

Everline Aketch of Public Service International during the 2024 UNCSC pre-event held on May 7, 2024, in Nairobi.

The public service sector has also faced significant resource cutbacks. In 2023, 37 percent of the school capitation approved by parliament was not disbursed, yet there was no accountability.

Despite these challenges, county governments in Kenya are making efforts to improve public services. Participants suggested that strengthening county governments by providing them with timely resources and connecting them with partners could enhance their capacity to deliver basic services.

The healthcare sector faces similar issues. Private hospitals often leverage public hospital infrastructure to offer medical services, resulting in slow service delivery and long queues in public hospitals. This situation forces patients to seek urgent care in expensive private facilities, only to be referred back to public hospitals for swift service.

Waruku criticized Kenyan leaders and politicians, many of whom do not use public schools or hospitals:

“Why would they be interested in managing these facilities when their personal preferences lie elsewhere?”

Transforming this situation requires the vigilance of the public and CSOs to ensure accountability in resource allocation. ActionAid Kenya plays a crucial role in this effort by building the capacity of both duty bearers (government officials) and rights holders (communities).

Lina Moraa, Women’s Rights and Governance Manager at ActionAid International Kenya, stated:

“We sensitize the community on gender-responsive public service (GRPS) budgeting and empower them to constructively engage with the government to ensure these services are adequately provided.”

“We also build community capacity to lead campaigns for GRPS, focusing on climate change, education, tax, water, and health. The communities we work with are involved in the Tax Justice and Climate Justice campaigns, among others. Public service must be subject to democratic accountability,” added Moraa.

Lina Moraa, women rights, and governance manager- ActionAid International Kenya speaking during the 2024 UNCSC pre-event held on May 7, 2024, in Nairobi.

The UNCSC pre-event included CSOs such as ActionAid International Kenya, ISER Uganda, Oxfam, EACHRight, HakiiJamii, Nairobi Water Network, Maduira Institute Pum/Kenya, Poblic Services International, Tax Justice Network, Global Alliance for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Akina Mama Wa Afrika, People’s Health Movement Kenya, Angry Alliance, Yali Kenya, Okoa Uchumi, Global Campaign for Education, URAIA, CLADE, and WETEC Kenya. The Kenyan government was represented by the Ministry of Education and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

As CSOs and government representatives convene, the call to halt the commercialization of public services and ensure their efficient, equitable delivery remains more critical than ever.

Author:  Mary Consolata Makokha, Communications Officer ActionAid Kenya. Edited by Ezra Kiriago ,Communications Coordinator ActionAid Kenya.

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