Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Vision; My Pledge


A society grows when it transforms and adapts to ethical conduct. Acts of corruption occur with the confluence of three factors:

1). One party with a 'critical need' that must be solved fast;
2). An event that hinders a quick end to the need, and
3). A third party that bears the power to allow access to the remedy.

Of all effects of graft on society, the ultimate is delay. What is corruption but delay of the ideal? People’s values vary and states may not legislate on morals, but time stays true and fair. An hour is sixty minutes, whether in the city or in the wild. To wait for justice, service, healthcare, licensing, amenities, education and security, wastes time and wreaks torment. A whole nation must wait longer for a future when people will serve the roles they are paid for. Because everything delays, some adapt to 'greasing palms', to get served.
When this becomes a way of life, the cost in money matches the cost in time. More people paying bribes raise its costs and induce more delays, "since everybody knows it takes time..." What a city must have is delayed for decades on end.

Always, one party has a quick need that must fester or go awry, unless another party is induced to ‘help.’ Corruption occurs when one offers inducements to another to arrest delay.

Were all services offered in reasonably quick time, corruption would abate. Where enough facilities exist, there is no need for long queues and shortages of options. Corruption is delay, and the easiest way to deal with delays is to embrace time limits for every service. The Kenya POA assures that all officers will declare fair time frames for their work, and will not bear the power both to permit and perform tasks.

Equality vs Equity: What to Choose?

The Purpose of Government

 It is a common occasion in policy debates for the interlocutors to skirmish over the principles of equity and equality. Depending on the ocular power of the lens one elects to view the stage through, there is a veritable glut of mallets and pick-axes available to any protagonist, for breaking the rock of these broad principles into smaller pieces of scary projectiles, to be hurled at the opponent, as time will unfortunately have stood him. Since skirmish we must, then we might as well understand the reasons for our opposed array on these fierce battlefronts.

Having no luxury of dictionary definitions I will, in their stead, present my 'surprised-out-of-sleep' understanding of the two, to explain why and when either is necessary.

To my mind, equity is best represented in the Gadhian expression: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. But since that only helps to address the supply side of the economic coin, we shall flip to the 'coat-of-arms' and observe on the demand side that to whom much is given, much is expected. Fair exchange! The goose will only lay the golden egg if she is fed on the finest grain and assured of life by the farmer; who will only secure these assurances if he must, without option of default, ultimately obtain his prized eggs.

Equality on the other hand is a concept born of all communal effort. At a certain basic level of humanity, all people are distinguishable only by the outturns of their mental exertions. We are just male or female, all requiring each other for successful accomplishment of our most basic endeavours.

Just as men cannot beget babies without women, geniuses cannot exist in a vacuum - they are born, raised, recognised and celebrated amongst the blundering hordes of the 'average.' They are children of someone, parents to someone else. We all, for the harmony and advancement of society, must shed our 'public airs,' hang the frock of fame and fortune on the office coat-stand and bolt the door behind us as we walk home to common society. At 'home' within society, we are mere participants, equal partners to everybody else co-operating in society's progressive trek though the treacherous plains of life. We become boys or men, girls or women; warriors, farmers, teachers, students, etc., each working for the final benefit of all. Selfish actions and restrained participation, aiming to reserve one’s best for own benefit is the bane of all societies.

Nature roots for equity, advancing its majestic law of survival of the fittest. In the wild, disability counts for certain demise. Human history - that is what we read, for we know nothing of the histories of reptiles: who are their heroes, which their wars, who their gods? - not only records but also recounts the deeds of our finest. Everywhere it is apparent, then, that life, left to its own vagaries, will always lead to equity. It is vain and wasteful effort, to fight for equity. Being the natural law, it does not require our weak slaps on a mountain to shake it.

Our business distils itself to understanding the purpose of social organization: why people seek groupings - to spread and share the high benefits of genius among the greatest number, to carry along those whose beneficial output is only but a future expectation, and to lend a helping hand to 'precious' laggards, those rare creatures amongst us whose value lies in extreme adaptation derived from debilitating deprivations of other 'normal' faculties, the sub-normal. This calls for a more compassionate look at all members of society. That what good one human deserves, is what all people deserve. Society, therefore, cannot afford equity. Compassion quickly resolves itself into equality.

Competition on the other hand will bring about equity. Consider an athletics sprint race at the Olympic Games. The organisers will provide a level track, in similar weather, at the same race time, with similar curves, a flat slope and accurately equalized distances for the participants to run on. The starting conditions are therefore equalized for all competitors from all over the world. When the race is started, by a ringing shot and ended later at the laser tape, the fastest and slowest runners are recorded by the time-stretch photo equipment. The athletes run an equal distance on an equalized track. The only difference, the main one indeed, in their positions at the tape is a product of their desire and physiques. That is the flower of equity blooming from the stem of equality. Nature wins out, again.

Where do I lead to with this? Just a simple point really! That we organise ourselves in groups to seek equality, because left to our own devices, we can only obtain equity. So, what is the role of common social organizations like Government? To provide equality - that level playing field - so that the individual brilliance of endowed individuals will separate common folk only when they advance well outside levels of tolerable life. That a boy in Turkana and a boy in Alego will have an equal chance in the Society's schools. That when a girl from Lamu beats them both, it should not be because her school was preferred, but because she has a higher IQ than these boys.

For national development, let us seek to equalize the facilities and amenities available to all persons and regions. Those that will squander their opportunities will thus be left behind, but from a tolerable starting point. Those who excel will, therefore, earn the respect of all, for their industry without imputations of graft, thievery and favouritism as are the usual fare here. And just like in the Olympic race, the winner will only be one metre ahead of the last to arrive, not a difference of the whole distance ran, as can be attested to by our rich-poor gap.

Government must be a tool for equality; equity is a natural grant.

Tech Terror Quakes Lethargic Banks

Mobile Money Transfer is Mere Usurpation and Exposure of Banks' Lethargy

The idea of a telecommunications company transfering money is much like a salon that offers a snack to its clientele.  The meal is only an enticement; and the salonist has no obligation to improve the quality of her morsels.  Infact, it becomes a health hazard to eat in such a place, though it provides the proprietor with vital experience, were she to diversify her interests into food. At the salon, whereas you certainly get your hunger satiated, the meal can never be as good or as safe as at a dedicated eatery. 

I concur with Crown Paints' Peter Marangi and join him in chanting his chorused exhortation to us: ask the experts!  Safaricom's M-Pesa and the whole litter of cash-zapping rival chefs are mere usurpers; they will never feed us on a first-class full course meal served with five-star grace.  The reason is simple, a barbershop that stocks beer can never beat a real pub.

Every business has a core competency; its raison d'etre, its sine qua non. And the basis of banking is money.  If anyone has the natural instinct for creating and transfering money, it is the bank.  We only happen to live in an age of timorous bankers and stagnancy of innovation.  Although the idea of mobile money transfer is great; its conduct by mobile phone service providers (MSPs) is not. One just wonders when banks will awaken from their slumber to leverage their licences and reclaim their forte.

Thousands of jobs

That the mobile money transfer phenomenon has transformed lives and transfigured townships cannot be gainsaid. Millions of households are being rescued from excruciating poverty and literally saved from sleeping on empty tummies. But at what cost to the economy?  Unfortunately, humans are only impressed by sensual perceptions, and in this instance, by what they see happening. In most pursuits, however, what we do not see is more significant. For instance, what is the real cost of this industry? Respectfully, may I posit that MSP money transfer is not unlike a boil, a sort of sore abscess; principally, an inefficient outpouring of pent energy and waste, resulting from clogs in the natural systems. It is not only uncomfortable and difficult to hide, but also very painful. Let me expound.

The Kenyan banking system is too slow to react to new ideas and technological advances.  Ever since Western Union and Moneygram came up with the secure Transactional Reference Code for money transfer, it was obvious that someone would use the idea for mass money movements across local wallets.

Why banks have never invested in technology that allows them to adopt this concept defeats logic.  Fair lady Idea met MSP Technology along Money Avenue, and while staid Lord Banks hesitated, his lumpen servant, MSP quickly set up a candy store and stole her languorous attention. Can Mr Banks reclaim his street and woo back his pledged lady?  

In responding to this query, we have to consider the efficiency and merit of the MSP offering against the natural competence of the banking industry. 

To transfer money in the MSP model, the sender has to get cash - from some trade transaction, bank counter or cash machine and 'deposit it' into her mobile phone account at an agent of the MSP. Only then can she send it over the phone system to the recipient, who may send it onwards to a further recipient (or visit her local MSP agent) for 'withdrawal' and expenditure. This process involves at least four person to person exchanges, the first: when a sender trades commodities or visits the bank for cash; the second, when she visits the Send Agent for deposit; the third, when the recipient goes to the Receive agent for withdrawal; and the fourth, as the recipient exchanges cash for commodities. 

This model is seriously vulnerable to insecurity and criminal intervention, as would be the case were thugs to accost the 'sender' and confiscate the cash while on her usually distant way between the source of cash and the Send Agent's premises; or even the recipient after withdrawal. Further inefficiency is encountered because these cash exchanges can only occur during the working hours of each Agency, which, again for security reasons, are limited to an average ten-hour day.

And does the economy work well with all these informal money agencies? Everyone cannot be a good doctor; certainly not many can make good bankers.  Why do we need all these MSP agents? Systemic banking inefficiences are directing precious entrepreneurial capital into this MSP industry, away from greater social pursuits and achievements. 

We do not need any informal bankers in an economy of over twenty thousand formal bankers working in forty-five commercial banks and serving only nine million bankable individuals. (Considering that Kenya's population of forty million is comprised, upto fifty-five per cent, of children below the age of majority, whose accounts, if at all anywhere held for them, are funded and operated by their guardians; and taking as granted that of the remaining forty-five percent, only about a half, still many of whom are enjoined as spouses, have the financial weal and muscle to hold a bank account), the banking system is adequately manned.  The few account holders have even fewer monthly transactional counts. 

Yet these few are the people transfering money within this economy.  Any more agents are just rent-seekers. What can be more inefficient than that?  We just end up with more people 'getting to know who has received how much,' exposing the recipients' privacy and as a consequence inflating consumer prices - because we must pay the excess baggage of informal bankers, and we must charge a premium on commodities sold to 'the newly rich villager, who has received money from Uppity.'  Can an economy grow on internal transfer payments without matching productivity increases? Mobile Money Transfers are a form of intra-economy transfer payments, and their impact can only be inflationary, on the microeconomic scale.
That is the underlying social cost.  Next time you want to complain of deteriorating standards of living and persistently higher costs of goods, perhaps we should consider blaming the twin C*K regulators - the Communications Commission of Kenya and the Central Bank of Kenya.

Now, in the bank-provider model; the bank runs a money transfer platform, employing the MSPs only for data exchanges. Any bank account holder can register to the premium service at her bank and access her account anywhere, anytime.  The transaction process involves a data message to the Bank's software modules, and a virtual transfer of funds from own account to any individual mobile number in the republic.  Every transaction only yields a reference and report of new virtual balances to each party concerned.  And the bank system keeps a complete, safe and secure record of transactions per each account and associated mobile number.

This way, a registered user can access money on call from the comfort of her bed, any time of the day or night, and pay rent, school fees, water bill, purchase airtime, send pocket money to her old folk or young boarding school child, send money to the shamba boy, pay Mama Mboga, the doctor, the supermarket bill, and so forth; and the money can flow within twenty or thirty trades, without anyone touching any cash.  Then we will not need to carry cash to Namanga because our bank has no ATM out there.

Your phone only transfers data.  The money stays at the bank, and anyone needing hard cash should walk to their nearest bank or sacco branch for 'download'.

This way, banks deal with money, and the telcos with data.  Fair trade! Neat division of labour and exercise of comparative advantage.  The economy enjoys complementarity, not undue competitive pressure.  But the banks must first wake up to this!


My Vision; My Pledge


Nations rise out of women and the seeds of any culture flourish in the souls of its mothers. Races endure and raise their vital stock with each choice their women make. Who to love and bear babies with; which child to train to which trait; how to nourish a family; which codes of faith to endow and fuse into a child’s mind; and in what tongue to express free ideas, are native acts to the role of Mom. Women influence their men in subtle but strong ways and shape destinies with the stamp of fluent nurture.

Much war and evil has razed hope or life, in quarrels over ethnic purity and cultural merit. Sadly, the wagers of woe, from Nazi Germany to the Hutu of Rwanda neither consult nor care for women. They act to destroy women, subdue them, and plant in them aliens’ kids, in aim to disrupt their cultures at the base. The blood that flows in the veins of a people is their all. The more there are who bear it, the surer the chance that it will live on. Every girl enriches her adopted society, but is a loss when she leaves. If we must keep our finest women raising our heritage, we must shred barriers to their progress, clear their routes to high ambition, and greet their best deeds with approval.

So, it is in the neat interest of a nation, to make the lives of its women happy above all else, respect their choices, to love and cherish them at home, and ward off the lures of foreign snares. To those on who so much depends, utmost care is owed; therefore, to meet our nation’s debt to women, we must attain Millennium Development Goals fast.

The Kenya POA will.

False Gender Agenda

The fallacy of reserved seats and gender balance

The Indian Parliament has struck a hitherto unprecedented blow for democracy and gender balance. The Federal Parliament in Delhi has this March 9th, 2010, passed by a massive 186 - 1, the bill that reserves a third of all seats of Parliament in the national and state assembles, for women. It was a decision intended to coincide with the International Day for Women, but that had to be delayed overnight, after it was marred by extreme scenes of dissension, with some Parliamentarians tearing copies of the bill and shouting in vehement damnation against its authors.  Six of those were suspended from House debate and had to be forcefully removed from the chamber.  Upon passage, its proponents led by the ruling Congress Party's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were beside themselves with effusive praise.

India is not alone in this choice, having been preceeded by even bolder leaps elsewhere.  Countries like Sweden and Rwanda lead the world in the proportion of women on their sovereign decision organs.  Other cultures, ancient and modern; nations like Sri Lanka, Argentina, Chile and Liberia have, with the passage of time, gone a step further, and elected women as heads of their governments.  To my mind, this is the epitome of the power of free choice, and the truest testament to the equality and competence of the world's womenfolk to the challenges of leadership.  Everywhere, women have proved their merit, and their accession to power is no longer a matter for worrisome reconsideration.

For this reason, the Indian choice deserves more than glancing attention. While this step is laudable and, indeed, emulable, it still betrays an offensive triumph of sentimentalist force over the strict dictates of nature and reason. 

Since antiquity, leadership has attracted the reverence and esteem reserved for the finest forms of culture and art.  Indeed, leaders are a society's finest artists, and their shoulders sometimes bear the real lives of their subjects.  What leaders dream, society drools at, and their word is the whole wide world to it. Like poetry, literature, music or natural science, leadership is, in some form, a spiritual concept. It is an outcome of passion.  And we may not reserve positions of passion on the basis of gender! Can we, for example reserve a third of all poetic positions for women; a third of all sculptors, all architects, all newspaper columnists, all farmers? Nature dictates that the most passionate hearts and minds on these planes should excel. Reserving positions of leadership for a given gender is promoting mediocrity. In the already miserly temple of politics, society loses the rarely sacrificed steak of merit at the altar of arithmetic.

Perhaps more poignant is the perversion of this gender equity concept on the Kenyan political scene. If the Constitutional review goes according to plan, Kenya's 47 new counties will each be represented in Parliament by a woman. Noting that each county is composed of several current constituencies, it effectively means each 'old' district will have a Super MP, who will likely be the county spokesperson, and to boot, a woman! Ask with me: why would a more popular candidate representing real people at the lowest level, be subordinated to an amorphously defined 'leader' for political expediency, representing an extinct entity and answerable to no-one on the ground?  When this county leader speaks, shall we take her word to be the synthesized wisdom of five or more Sub-MPs in her county?  And what is to stop her from being subjective and partisan in her views? Isn't she just a human like all others in the House?

There has never been shown any proof that 100 women produce more and better ideas than 20 women.  The same cannot be said of 100 passionate souls, whether men or women. Both in the real and the ideal world, we are better off with a passionate, focused all-men parliament, than a reward-for-gender House. Let justice be our shield and defender.  Reserving seats for women is discrimination against men.  The implied outcome is that no woman will be elected to represent a constituency, since their lot have a free pass, through the county quota system.

Unless the aim is merely to create jobs for cronies and spouses, the representation red-herring is dead and rotting. Tell me another, India!