Even sugarcane and bananas stems at the place of work are fair game for greedy Kenyans seeking ‘office perks’, writes JOHN KARIUKI
When United States President John F Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” he didn’t have Kenyans in mind.
Down here, you earn the respect of your peers and your community by milking the republic and your employer for all it’s worth, even if it costs you more in the process.
Justus is a civil servant based in Nairobi. While on leave last year, he stood by the roadside waiting for a matatu to travel upcountry. But as fate would have it, a driver from his workplace saw him and stopped a departmental pick-up truck by the roadside. This driver was on an official trip to Nyeri where Justus was headed so he hopped in and in no time was getting updated on office gossip.
But just before Ruiru, the driver took a detour to carry “a few things” home and parked behind a dingy roadside bar to load his goods.
Justus was shocked to see the driver loading empty paint tins, jerricans and pieces of soft board — which he identified as scrap from an ongoing facelift at the office — onto the government vehicle. He also noticed one or two broken chairs, malfunctioning wall clocks and several worn out tyres.
What should have been a quick two-hour trip to Nyeri became a nightmare when the driver detoured, yet again, at Kenol and headed into the interior of Murang’a to drop his cargo.
“We took a dirt road that had many winding turns. Up and down valleys, we went,” says Justus.
“When we arrived at his rural home, his mother would not hear of us leaving before taking the traditional cup of tea, which, of course, led to a heavy lunch two hours later,” says Justus.
Unfortunately, on their way back to the main road, it rained heavily and they had to hire eager youths to pull and push the government car uphill.
“Imagine I had to part with the fare I had presumably saved to pay the youths when we finally hit the tarmac!” regrets Justus.
That Government driver is among Kenyans who will do anything to harvest free goodies at the workplace. They range from the top police officer who orders his driver to chauffer his three-year-old daughter to baby class in his official car every morning to the minister who uses school buses from his or her constituency to ferry supporters.
Hillary Kilaga* from Voi says while his boss earns a six digit salary, he is not averse to ordering that all empty cartons, in which supplies are brought, be strictly reserved for him.
“In fact, there is a standing order that all empty buckets in which cooking fat and detergents are supplied are his, unless he gives express authority to the contrary in writing,” says Kilaga.
“This man causes a ruckus when his daily newspaper misses on his desk though he rarely reads them,” adds Kilaga. “But every so often, he is spotted selling a load of old newspapers at a butchery in town.”
Kilaga’s boss, certainly used to many unfettered perks, also mistakes the staff ‘merry go round’ as an extension of his official duties.
“He has hijacked the chama. He frequently directs officials to lend him money even when it’s not his turn, meaning somebody has to be stood down,” moans Kilaga.
Ciku Big* who works in Thika is equally fascinated by her boss’ unrivalled zeal for benefiting from the workplace despite his large ego.
“When we hold bashes at the workplace, there is a subtle and unwritten rule that the boss must take the leftovers home for his dogs,” she says.
Besides, those charged with slaughtering the sheep or goats must also follow another intractable house rule handed down the generations: “One goat or sheep carcass must be packed in his car, no questions asked,” she says.
“One chap, recently employed, questioned the order of things and gave him a half carcass. We were not shocked when when his name went missing from the payroll in January,” adds Ciku.
When Ciku and her colleagues go out for charity races — minus the big man, of course — nobody forgets him when certificates are issued.
“More importantly, if there are branded T-shirts for participants, we never forget to gift-wrap two or three of these for onward transmission to the boss for his weekend wear,” says Ciku. “This frequently means one or two employees forgoing theirs.”
But as far as incredulity goes, Pilot Kush*, a school driver in Eastern province, has seen more than his fair share. In his long experience of driving a school bus in a public school, Kush has learnt to live with some teachers’ crazy sense of perceived entitlement.
“Whenever I make a trip to Nairobi, scores of teachers pack farm produce in the bus with tags for their city friends and relatives whom they give my phone number,” says Kush.
It becomes a nightmare for Kush to deliver these parcels to people in diverse locations, meaning he ends up taking the pupils back to school long after midnight.
“A recent development is where teachers go ahead to urban centres, especially on paydays, to buy furniture and household goods and then waylay me to take these back to school, irrespective of how full it is,” says Kush.
A most memorable incident occurred when Kush’s school acquired a new 67-seater bus and the principal invited all teachers for a trip.
“You won’t believe this, but on the material day, 120 people assembled at the parking lot to board the bus,” says Kush.
Apparently, the principal had forgotten to strictly specify that it was only teachers who were the sole beneficiary of her largesse and not their spouses and dependants.
“I thought it was only me who had brought someone along,” one teacher laughed with embarrassment.
Kush also remembers taking a long-serving deputy head teacher on transfer. But some of the things that he loaded in the school truck still shock him to date.
“The teacher carried a wardrobe, a dressing table, a satellite dish and a gas cylinder, all supplied by the school, to the new station,” says Kush. “And since he was also patron of a club that raised pigs and rabbits, I ended up loading coops for caging the livestock into the van,” marvels Kush.
But as he revved the van, still smarting with shock, the teacher dashed to the deserted compound for one last time.
“There was more cargo apparently, like freshly uprooted sugar cane and the bananas that had been growing luxuriantly in a corner of the compound,” says Kush.
Certainly, the departing deputy’s excesses must have disturbed the school principal, but she was probably too embarrassed to talk about it.
But none of these beat the ingenuity of a former Nairobi City Council Town Clerk who not only irregularly awarded her daughter a university scholarship, but put her on the payroll as well as a ‘ghost worker’.
However, so far as impunity goes, nothing compares with a former top army officer who was said to use soldiers to graze livestock on one of his ranches in the semi-arid northern Kenya.
For them, John Kennedy who could afford to say, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” was a rich fool who did not know that luck does not come knocking twice.
*Names have been changed