ENGA resident judge Justice Graham Ellis shocked and embarrassed Enga police last week by getting down on his hands and knees, along with his court officials, to clean out the condemned Enga police cells.
All it took to restore the cells back from their condemned status to a reasonable state of usefulness was some elbow grease, initiative, time and enough money to buy detergents and cleaning tools.
All in all, it probably put the judge out of pocket by no more than K50, two to three hours of his time, and a bit of backache and withstanding the stench for the duration of the cleaning exercise.
Anybody could have done it, yet the cells had remained condemned for a long time.
Police, including provincial police commander Chief Insp Martin Lakari, were embarrassed and asked to join the judge and his small team but he stoutly refused the aid.
And, quite rightly so. Why wait for a judge to show the way?
The police have had the cells to themselves all this time and never once did it enter their heads to organise a roster for their members to clean out the cells.
Indeed, they need not have policemen clean out the cells. The persons detained in those cells, and who most probably leave the place in such a foul mess, ought to be made to clean the place regularly.
Failing that, for a small fee, any number of youths on the streets could be engaged for a few hours a week to clean out the cells and, maybe, the entire police station and precincts.
Wabag does not have a large business community but even the few that are resident there would like a functional and efficient police force operating from healthy work environment. They would be willing to contribute a small sum towards regular clean-up tasks.
All it takes is initiative and organisation.
And that is lacking right across the broad spectrum of Government and private sector in this country.
In the days when the present head of the National AIDS Council Wep Kanawi was the secretary for public service, he rostered Friday mornings for public servants to roll up their sleeves and cut grass or do general cleaning up around the central Government offices. Many stoutly refused to be dragged into such menial tasks and told Mr Kanawi so – going so far as asking him to point out what parts of the public service general orders he was using to engage public servants in such tasks.
There might be nothing in the general orders, or even the police manual, which might suggest that cleaning up the police cells in Wabag is the duty of a policemen but a cell that is not condemned helps the policeman perform his duties which are stipulated in the police duty manual.
It follows that anything that a policeman or any other public servant can do that would enable him to perform his duty better ought to be done, whether it is specifically spelled out or not.
Lack of initiative of the sort that Justice Ellis showed is responsible for much of the lethargy that persists in our public institutions today.
Lack of simple organisation such as Justice Ellis did – he bought cleaning detergents and got his staff to follow him to clean out the cells – is also another very simple, every day do-able thing that is lacking in public institutions.
In the end a lot of roads, buildings and other public infrastructure that are condemned as being unfit for use have, perhaps, arrived at that stage because of lack of simple initiatives and organisation.
In the days of the kiap (patrol officers), a day in the week was committed towards what was called “government work”. On that day, every person in a community was called to the communal meeting place and the headman would allocate tasks to everyone.
Public buildings such as rest houses would be built or maintained. Walking tracks and fences and bridges would be cleaned or mended.
It turned out to be a fun day for all when the entire community was doing something together for the communal benefit and not for individuals and families. Communities were cleaner then. There was much cooperation. There was no thought of putting in a claim for work done.
Why is that simple but most effective use of a single day in the week in those days so difficult to reintroduce today?