Friday, September 09, 2016

To Eat Or Not To Eat: The Cost of Kenyan Politicians

Of all the revelations that have come out of the inquisitions into the fiasco that accompanied Kenyan authorities’ preparations for the Rio Olympics, perhaps none is as significant as the fact that nearly Sh2.2 million in tax payer money was used to book rooms aboard a cruise ship for use by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

A cruise ship. Sh2.2 million. Let that sink in.

The figure was part of a Sh5 million that was wasted on rooms for politicians and bureaucrats that were left unused while athletes and team officials were in some cases abandoned to fend for themselves. According to sprint coach John Anzrah, who was subsequently expelled from the Games after being caught using an athlete’s accreditation to access the dining area, he and fellow trainers “were taken to a residential three-bedroom house and dumped there by National Olympic Committee of Kenya officials without basic amenities including food.” All the while, cruise ship rooms for the President and five-star hotel accommodations for Parliamentary committee chairmen lay idle.

But enraging as this is, it should not be surprising. Not from a jet-setting President who prefers to watch a Formula One race while his citizens are massacred as happened in November 2014. Not from an administration which in its first month in office was already steeped in scandal over allegations that Deputy President William Ruto had spent Sh100 million in taxpayer money to hire a luxury jet. Not from a government that in 2006 started building a house for the Vice President initially budgeted at Sh179 million, whose cost had ballooned to Sh453 million by 2008 and which five years later apparently required a further Sh100 million in renovations before its first resident could move in. Especially not from a governing coalition that treats State House and its accoutrements as private property.

The flagrant abuse of public resources for the private comfort of politicians knows no limits. From the obscene wages we pay Members of Parliament to the even more obscene “retirement benefits” we are forced to fork out for politicians who may or may not have “retired”, Kenya has become a country where mali ya umma (public property) has been converted into mali ya kuuma (property for nibbling).

Even in death, politicians continue to take a chunk out of us. When visiting to condole with the family of the recently deceased former cabinet minister, William Ole Ntimama, President Kenyatta had no qualms about pledging public funds to offset funeral expenses for a multi-millionaire who had been implicated in corruption and in fanning ethnic violence which claimed the lives of thousands. In July 2008, he was even caught on camera in an unguarded moment apparently admitting responsibility for the killings of 600-1000 people and inviting then Chepalungu MP (now Bomet Governor) Isaac Ruto to "bring his people" for an all-out battle over the Mau Forest.

Similarly, the state funeral for former First Lady, Lucy Kibaki, illustrated just how cavalier the government is with our money. It came despite the fact that her husband, in his last year in office, had already awarded himself and his predecessor, Daniel Arap Moi, tens of millions of shillings in retirement benefits which, as of November last year, continued to be paid in violation of a court order declaring them unconstitutional.

As First Lady, a designation which appears nowhere in our laws, Mrs Kibaki was herself quietly paid an annual salary of Sh6 million a year, fuss only being kicked up when similar salaries were in 2008 proposed for the wives of then Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and then Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Till today, it has never been made clear whether Margaret Kenyatta, or indeed any of the wives of the 47 County Governors, draw public salaries.

Even Cabinet Secretaries, who by law are not meant to be politicians, have gotten in on the act. Sports CS Hassan Wario’s antics in Rio aside, they apparently continue to draw a public salary of over Sh1 million a month even after they have been relieved of duty. An unnamed government source reportedly told the Daily Nation that this was “to cushion them from falling prey to enemies of the State”. But former Labour CS, Kazungu Kambi, when asked about whether he was still being paid pointed to what may be the real reason: “I’m a politician remember.”

In May, the immediate former Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission chief, Philip Kinisu declared that over Sh600 billion in public funds was stolen every year. 600 BILLION. If you spent Sh16 million a day, it would take you over a century to spend what the government loses to corruption in one year. Yet as crazy as that figure is, it does not include the many millions we are legally and routinely forced to cough up to keep our politicians and their families in the manner to which they have now become accustomed. All this at the cost of much needed schools, teachers, hospitals, medical equipment, infrastructure and, yes, even accommodation for athletes and their coaches at the Olympics.


Anonymous said...

What a pity!!!! If such news is not reason for a country to send its government home - one wonders what is! what it would take the "jubilant citizens of Kenya" to smell the coffee and start thinking right? Maybe when Raila retires?? Some logic!

Joji wanyoike said...