4 things merging of Government agencies must achieve for Kenyan entrepreneurs

Your experience of getting public services is set for another change after announcement of merging of Government agencies to create a mega bank.

In a circular, the Presidential Strategic Communication Unit revealed that you’ll soon be saying goodbye to the Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE), Development Bank of Kenya (DBK) and the Industrial Development Bank of Kenya (IDB). Other important agencies set to fold are the Uwezo Fund, Youth Enterprise Development Fund and the Women Enterprise Fund (WEF).

The Kenyan Government gave reduction of overlaps and gains from economies of scale as the motivation for this change. This has been questioned, of course. Merging of Government agencies is always sold for making public service efficient and cheap. But there is always the understated reason of downsizing to fit liberalization dogma. There’s a lot more factors that lead to good public service delivery that need to be addressed.

For Kenyan entrepreneurs, who will lose the specialist services of WEF and the Youth Fund, for example, hope will be that the new Development Bank considers their feedback (if at all) and improves services to meet their goals. Anyone wishing to start a business or operating one hopes the following 4 demands will be met:

1. Experience

The first argument that moving chairs around is not the be and end all of public service is customer experience. How have you found customer service in any Government institution? An individual describes it as interacting with “unfriendly bureaucrats waiting for 5pm to happen.” No innocent entrepreneur wants to be on the end of frustration on why we still have, like, a 10-hour work day, for white collar workers. Everyone knows office people work for half the time at best.

This is an issue of work culture. Can it be changed by a young generation of public service officials? Contracting front office duty? Bypassing human interaction entirely? Or will the new body attempt to teach old dogs new tricks? We’ll have to wait for the appointed inter-agency task force to complete its job.

2. Convenience

Nobody wants to go through so many confusing processes or meet too many different requirements to enjoy public service. If the Kenyan Government truly wants to reach those without a stake in the economy, it needs to simplify things. The back and forth also needs to be minimized, otherwise what’s the point of one-stop-shop? The individual quoted earlier, on unfriendly officials, was describing his experience of being made to wait on a long Huduma Centre queue only to be issued with a nonchalant “return after two weeks.” Why has a mechanism to check that at your convenience not been implemented?

3. Cost

Corruption is one of the reasons we can’t have nice things in Kenya (middlemen are another). There are arguments for bribery in developing countries like Kenya. They exist to bypass bureaucratic huddles. So get rid of the bureaucratic barriers. e-services, for instance, eliminate a whole class of individuals who want to be compensated for expediting services, as they should.

Bribes increase cost of services and misallocates already strained resources. You want to start a value addition business as the Government has been begging all of us to do? Read how much it costs for them to allow you to do that. The consolidated agency must strive to make it a direct interaction between services and entrepreneurs, with as little “approvals”, “counter-checks” in the way as is possible.

4. Objective

It’s a little disappointing that many different needs will be served under one roof. It could come at the cost of increasing access of these funds and business development services to the youth and women. It could deteriorate to a “you don’t get served because you don’t tip well” situation real quick.

At the end of the day, the main goal is to improve access to funds for MSMEs. We still hold that a Government, not, fighting corruption should not be dishing out monies to anybody but we are small people. There needs to be a better outreach program and even more products to fit all the kinds of small businesses we have in the country. A key goals is to bring the informal sector to the light.