We need to fix the basics

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By Phyllis Wakiaga

Good governance is hinged on processes and structures that promote accountability, rule of law, inclusiveness, transparency, empowerment and broad-based participation. For a political culture to be defined as a progressive, these values must be found at the very core of its foundation.

Governance structures such as the Constitution embody individual and societal progress, which is why thriving democracies are those that enshrine these values and more importantly uphold them to the highest degree.

Consequently, democracies that normalize these values translating them into national philosophies upon which institutions are built are able to efficiently manage their national resources, reducing their poverty levels, increasing their national output and build more inclusive societies. Essentially, good governance begets strong and independent institutions which support national social development and economic sustainability, and in turn, investment attraction.

In rethinking, reshaping and reimagining our political trajectory as a country during this critical juncture, we ought to focus on strengthening the building blocks of our democracy as a foremost fundamental step towards establishing economic development and social stability.

We should ask ourselves; what are the critical elements that we need ​to move forward in order to ensure that we not only attract, but retain and effectively integrate private investment in the country, to catalyze wealth creation and equal distribution of resources? More importantly, what is the role of the constitution in actualizing this?

The constitutional setting of any economy has a direct impact on transforming national economic resources into output; that is, the more sound the constitutional environment, the more robust the GDP growth with tangible gains for all. With this in mind, it is important to ensure that constitutionally mandated institutions are designed as cornerstones to oversee the enactment of the rule of law towards effecting economic progress.

Our country’s economic growth is fueled by increased investments, both foreign and domestic. However, to effectively retain and integrate these investments for sustained economic gains, we must demonstrate our capability to establish a regulatory machinery that empowers national institutions.

When national institutions charged with overseeing the rule of law are emboldened, it not only guarantees a stable and predictable macroeconomic environment which is a key attraction to investors, but also facilitates the coherence of institutional networks towards the formulation and implementation of progressive economic policies.

Many a times a comparative analysis between Kenya and countries such as Singapore and Malaysia is made in relation to our economic status in the 80s, and the usual question, ‘where did we go wrong?’ surfaces. In my opinion, it is what they ‘did right’ that we need to focus on, and use that as a guide to next steps in nation building.

They got the basics right. These included, building efficient public management systems, driving deeper democratization through devolution, prioritizing quality education for every child, inculcating social norms that value equitable distribution and building capacity for national institutions.

The latter translated to political commitment in creating an enabling environment for independent civil service which in turn, guaranteed policy continuity especially with reference to industrial policies. By entrenching these elements in their basic political economy, these countries increased their competitiveness, and have since been able to attract, retain and integrate huge investments guaranteeing long-term sustainability.

In our case, empowered and independent national institutions will ensure that political transactions which have economic implications for this country are steeped in the constitution. This means that values such as accountability, transparency and integrity will underpin processes and operations, increasing efficiency and effectiveness and thereby boosting our competitiveness.

The Global Investment competitiveness Survey, released by the World Bank this week, cites reliable institutions as paramount to de-risking private investment in many countries. Of the Investors surveyed, 82% said that the level of transparency and predictability of public institutions or agencies played a huge role in their decisions of where to invest. The same would apply to domestic investors, the capability of institutions to guarantee the ease of doing business, will influence their level of commitment towards expanding and further integrating their businesses in the country.

In essence, our country’s legal, political and economic frameworks, should be anchored on the principles of the constitution to drive inclusive economic growth and increase investor attraction. Supporting the constitutionally mandated institutions that house these frameworks will enable them to steer inclusive development by for example, establishing commitment to budgetary discipline, seeing to it that the citizenry have access to the fundamental amenities, reducing poverty and improving the quality of life.

At the same time, their ability to guarantee a macroeconomic balance and policy continuity will encourage expansion of investments through industry dispersion, spurring wealth creation, nurturing innovation and increasing equality through productive employment.

The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Network Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at ceo@kam.co.ke