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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Constitutional review, doctors` strike revisited

18th February 2012

Surprising changes in the political atmosphere were visible the past week when it was the opposition that was full of praise for President Jakaya Kikwete in relation to the modality of the constitutional review bill.

At the same time the doctors’ strike was coming to an end with a marginal promise of increased pay and allowances, while setting out March 3 as a final date of reaching proper accord or satisfaction on those initiatives. Hardly any political group claimed dividends from the strike or its cessation, temporarily.

While at the beginning of the doctors’ strike it appeared that the remaining confidence in the presidency was waning, at it continued it seemed the tables were being reversed, and those who sought to win capital from it reeled back. Not even the doctors themselves had as much spirit left in them, as they were being condemned left, right and centre by many religious leaders. Only a few devotees were on the demonstration frontline seeking to put the blame for not resolving the crisis on the government’s door, less the public as such.

In that case the suspension from work of the two top civil executives, the permanent secretary and the chief medical officer at the ministry appeared to be sufficient for the doctors to return to work.

In strict terms that measure by the government, targeting top level officials with whom they clashed at the start of the interns’ removal problem would not constitute a sufficient measure if the issue was their salary and allowance demands. It seemed to be more of a pretext to return to work, as they were feeling the strain already.

A slightly different scenario was being played out inside the chambers of Parliament when the government tabled a bill to amend in variousareas a recently passed act for the formation of a constitutional review commission. The irony was that the government bill was little short of a directive by the president to incorporate opposition proposals on the act into the new bill so that it is acceptable to a wider range of the population, something that earlier seemed to verge on the blasphemous. But isn’t politics the art of the possible?

While the constitutional review bill was passing through the chambers of Parliament, another parliamentary act or initiative was stuck in mud in the Speaker’s Office, namely the consensus to raise allowances of MPs (one type daily allowances) from 70,000/- to 300,000/-.

At some point it was clear that the total raise, having generated considerable resentment in society, had met with unfavorable State House reaction, despite apparent consensus between the Speaker and the Prime Minister on the matter. By the time the doctors’ strike broke out, chances of a compromise at 200,000/- allowance also failed.

Despite that no claim was heard to that effect, the collapse of the MPs’ allowances hike or its postponement ‘sine die’ seemed to have contributed to calming the spirits of the doctors, to accept some marginal start-up review of their emoluments.

For despite that there are salary inequalities between the civil services and executive agencies of the government, where the doctors wanted to be paid on the latter framework and not the former as is presently the case, their real anger was at MPs. If they change their incomes to compare with parliamentarians in Kenya or elsewhere, doctors should also be so paid.

In that case the government as well as MPs needs to learn one lesson, that the Jairo mode of fiscal management of incomes is at a dead end, and no more provocations should come from executive branch members, so as not to risk outright civic revolt.

The attempt by MPs to massively hike one category of their allowances was preceded by the Jairo energy estimates contributions eyesore, in which case it was what the ancients called ‘adding salt to a wound,’ or ‘adding insult to injury,’ and a section of professionals revolted. Were it that MPs bid for time, and knowing the president is chained, rush for hikes, chaos ensues.

The president is chained because Parliament detains the right to bring to the floor this or that motion in which the president’s position is weak, namely Dowans (with or without the court-cleared payments), Kagoda, EPA, Twin Towers, Jairo and a few others (some declared closed like Meremeta, etc).

If MPs start using (or in stricter terms abusing) their privileges of raising motions to destabilize the president so as to bring him to sign on the dotted line for them to hike allowances, they now know there is a sea change. All these initiatives on their part relied on presumption of a placid public opinion; now that is gone.

At the same time, the very surfacing of plans to massively hike MPs allowances has in large measure dented earlier impressions on the part of a somewhat naïve public opinion that all this pursuit or sniffing of scandals is solely in the public interest.

Having been shocked by MPs’ pay demands, the public will be far less inclined to believe them the moment they start breathing fire again on those semi-closed files, because the president has won this round of contest with them. It was a reversal of tables as MPs had totally won, once the president lost a NEC debate on cabinet clearance of Dowans contract, etc.

In that case the MPs’ confidence about their unassailable position, encapsulated in their demand for far higher allowances, stemmed from having trapped the presidency, in which case neither the Speaker nor the PM or indeed the Treasury could do anything about it.

In that case the doctors’ strike was nature’s way of intervening to restore the stability of the state, as it weakened the position of MPs in the public eye, not in relation to their greed but how to resolve the crisis. The doctors became the president’s ready made weapon which he however didn’t create, nor did he wield, as it destroyed his parliamentary foes.

In both instances of massive pay hike demands, what the president appeared to be doing was to bid for time, to see how the proposals could be included in the next budget, as it were. Still the Treasury knows that the next budget is being assailed left, right and centre as the state has been accumulating debts from commercial banks far above accepted levels with observer missions of the IMF in particular. When such a situation is allowed to continue it reaches a state of non-payable debts and painful structural adjustment, etc.

That means the stability of the state has been restored by placing a moratorium on the two leading social strata that could harm the state by their individual or group action. MPs can harm the state by votes of no confidence in a minister, the prime minister or the president, while doctors are the single group in society that can shake the government.

Any other category would have been quashed by government order and its leaders arrested – while in the doctors’ case it is religious leaders who were complaining about a certain Dr. Ulimboka Stephen. They raised issues about his qualifications and title; conversely, the government kept quiet, knowing they would win no public acclaim for any such action.

Examining the scenario a bit closely, it emerges that the government and the president (by which is meant the prime minister as government) could only act on things which emanated from the government.

They finally took a measure of placating the anger of the doctors by removing from office two top officials, and because the doctors were already feeling the strain of their betraying the people, they went back to work, and newspapers said they were in high morale. Since their demands were salary-based, and not per se any disciplinarian measures in the ministry, nothing had been concretely achieved by that act.

This sequence of events, despite that dangers still hung in the air over whether doctors would engage in a crossing of swords with the government early March if the changes to their income are too marginal, lifted the president above Parliament and political parties.

He successfully avoided the MPs’ demand for massive allowance hike while not meeting the doctors’ demands either, letting each side crush itself against the wall of disapproval by the breadth of the public.

At the end, it prepared the way for compromise and smooth passage of the constitutional review commission bill, with both camps of MPs exhausted.

The scenario produced over the past month brings to memory the sort of complicated outline of the character of the state that Karl Marx sketched out in ‘The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,’ in 1852, which saw Louis Bonaparte, known as Emperor Bonaparte III take over the state in a coup d’Etat. Marx said all the classes were exhausted and left one person take over absolute power, which reflects on the character of ‘the absolute state’ in the final stages of European feudalism.

Depending on the context of expression, either as a long term balance of class struggles (as in party supremacy, where workers, bureaucrats and peasants are all dictated upon by the state, the ‘dear leader,’) so does it come up in democracy.

It brings up temporary cessation of the thrust of class demands, until basic conditions of those demands are altered, giving marginal advantage to some contending classes – which thus means, they dictate or influence the president more convincingly.

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