Will those who dug Kenya into this mess stand up?

Maina Kiai by Maina Kiai

It is hard to take President Uhuru Kenyatta seriously when he says we must tighten our belts while he proceeds with business as usual. I am not sure what world he lives in, but leaders are only taken seriously when they lead from the front. He should have first told us how he would be tightening his belt.  

Let’s be clear: Mr Kenyatta and William Ruto live courtesy of our taxes. They pay for nothing. We buy the food they eat. We buy the water and other beverages they drink. We pay their electricity and other utility bills. We buy their clothes. And we pay for all their transport needs, even when they go to “tangatanga” across and outside Kenya, whether on holidays, business, politics or official business.

So the first thing Kenyatta should have done is suspend salaries and allowances for himself and all others whose needs we pay for — for I suspect that it is not just the two of them. Then he could have proceeded to reduce the huge costs that their offices consume each year, especially that strange “hospitality” budget line that could include daily whiskey, mursik or nyama choma.

It is outrageous that we are bearing the costs of Jubilee’s extravagant spending. SGR is consuming so much of our debt and interest repayment, yet is was meant to cost Sh80 billion by expanding and adjusting the old railway line from Mombasa to Kisumu, rather than build a totally new one.

Instead, Jubilee came up with a new SGR whose price ballooned four times from the original proposal to Sh360 billion, and then only from Mombasa to Nairobi. In the process, they decided that the SGR needed to cut right across the heart of the Nairobi National Park, one of our special treasures. I bet that in five years or so, with animals abandoning the National Park, we will be hearing of the need to sell it off. And at which point, long held secret title deeds will emerge.

We should start with making all those who got us into this debt mess to pay back the money. An international forensic audit should be done to ascertain the cost of what we are told the debts have paid for.

If public servants were to be held personally accountable for decisions that wreck our economy and our lives, some will become more circumspect and careful. But as long as those in charge are cavalier and selfish with our taxes, then we can only expect that to trickle down.

The issue of not taking the current authorities seriously runs deep. I talked to a policeman recently about their new uniforms and he explained that this was part of the police reforms that they are undertaking. I then asked if that meant that the culture of kitu kidogo and chai would end. He burst out into a hearty laugh saying, “Kenya ni ile ile, viongozi ni wale wale na kama hakuna reforms huko, na sisi?” And so it goes.

A few months ago I did a U-turn in a Nairobi street in the evening and promptly got stopped by a policeman on patrol, not a traffic police officer. He was clearly waiting for cars to pass by. He said I had done an illegal U-turn. I first asked for his name tag, as I do every time I meet a police officer for they are required by law to be identifiable while in uniform at all times. I then asked him to show me the sign that indicated that U-turns were not allowed, at a spot where massive construction was going on and it was impossible to know what road was what. He retorted that I should know and that he would arrest me unless I coughed up some chai.

I told him that his job as an officer on patrol should be less traffic control and more crime prevention and that the Mutunga traffic rules of 2016 were clear that I could not be arrested for traffic offences. I also said that I was willing to go through the process. That would have meant him leaving his extortion station and accompanying me to the police station. He chose to wave me off, albeit very irritatedly.

Incidentally, these are the same rules that CS Fred Matiang’i has now set up a task force to implement, yet they were gazetted in Legal Notice No. 161 vide legislative Supplement No. 68, under the Traffic Act CAP 403.  The police have refused to implement these rules, but a task force means that allowances must be paid, “hospitality” funds must be found as such teams find it impossible to sit without allowances and lots of tea, samosas and mandazi.

The point is that as long as those at the top act with impunity, are wasteful and condone corruption, then the police and indeed ordinary Kenyans will continue extorting and stealing whenever they can.   Is it a wonder we are in such a mess?

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