Wednesday, January 8, 2014

ALLEGATIONS OF TOP-LEVEL CORRUPTION HURTING KENYA

There is a whiff of the 1990's in the air in Kenya today.

Twenty three years ago as the country entered into a multi-party system of government and was getting ready to implement IMF economic reforms, a major financial scandal broke out. Mandarins in the government had schemed up an arrangement in which a local company, Goldenberg International, was to be paid a 35 percent compensation for all gold it exported, even though Kenya did not produce gold. By the time it came to a halt in 1993, the scheme, now known as the Goldenberg scandal, had robbed Kenya of an estimated 60 billion shillings or a fifth of its gross domestic product.

In 1997, another mega scandal - the Anglo Leasing - exploded. What started as a project to acquire a passport printing system somersaulted into a big conspiracy involving some big wigs and a loss of billions of shillings through various illegal transactions.

Now, less than a year into the Jubilee government, two more scandals, seemingly of astronomical proportions have erupted, playing out at a time when the IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, was visiting to discuss possible financial assistance to Kenya.

One of those scandals involves the standard gauge railway line from Mombasa to Malaba in Uganda. If the reports are true, this could turn out to be one big embarrassment for the Jubilee government. The project was initiated during President Mwai Kibaki's government, but it was after Uhuru visited China last August and signed on the dotted line, that the race to implement it began.

President Kenyatta inaugurated the project and everything was going on as planned until it came to light that the cost of its construction had jumped from 220 billion to 1.3 billion shilling. If implemented, critics say, Kenya stands to lose 400 billion shillings. Government officials have disputed the 1.3 billion figure insisting the cost of infrastructure and of trains and locomotives would only cost 327 billion shillings.

Now, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission has jumped into the controversy with a commitment for a thorough investigation. Hopefully, the truth will eventually come out.

As the railway deal was brewing, another one, described by COTU Secretary General as the "scandal of the year' is in the kettle boiling. Francis Atwoli alleges that the Treasury could lose up to 5 billion shillings through inflated bills related to the construction of roads and a sewerage system at Tassia estate in Nairobi's Eastlands area. According to him, the cost of the project - again to be undertaken by a Chinese company - has been inflated by greedy individuals from 3.36 billion to 5.05 billion without the approval of the administering Board at the National Social Security Fund, NSSF.

The Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi has denied the allegations saying the whole amount was approved. The question is: who between the two is telling the truth? That question can only be answered through investigations.

The NSSF  - a workers' retirement fund - has been at the centre of corruption scandals for years. Some pundits say it is at the top of the ten most corrupt State Corporations in the country. Only in June, the anti-corruption body reportedly froze its assets worth 15 billion shillings following revelations of imprudent investments.

What does all this mean to Kenya? It means we have allowed greed to infiltrate and take residence in our moral conscience. It proves once again that people go for high public positions not for the good of the country but for personal interests. It means we don't care about embarrassing ourselves to the rest of the  country and the world. And more importantly, it means some of us do not love our country as much as we say.

On the railway deal, three Parliamentary Committees - the Public Accounts Committee, the Transport Committee and the Public Investment Committee - are jostling for an opportunity to investigate. Given past history, I am not convinced this work should be left to Parliament alone. Also, why jostle unless there is someting to "eat"? The Committees can jostle and fight for the stakes, but let us leave the job of investigations to the anti-corruption organisation.

And that is my say.