Mr President, don’t sweep concerns under the carpet

By Billow Kerrow

Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter may be a man under siege in high places but his message seems to resonate well with rank and file URP supporters in Rift Valley and elsewhere.

FM radio stations are inundated by locals supporting Keter’s challenge to the Presidency on their development record, and appointments, in the region. His argument is premised on the perceived shortchanging of his party by their coalition partner, especially in relation to appointments to public office. Clearly, the young man speaks for many.

Rift Valley fully supported Jubilee Alliance in the last election and so has a valid stake in the government. But so did Mandera, which gave the coalition nearly 99 per cent support. Yet, nine months down the road, we have little to show for it. Not only have the leaders failed to visit the region but none of the development pledges made have come to fruition so far. If Rift Valley feels shortchanged, Mandera feels conned. Instead of being rewarded with appointments to public service, we have had several fired from their positions by the same regime we endeavoured to support.

But perhaps the most intriguing controversy created by Keter revolves around the Kenya Railways project that will cost nearly US$13.7 billion, financed and contracted by the Chinese. Questions around the non-competitive procurement of the supplier have been raised, and legitimately so. In a nation where grand corruption is entrenched, such an arrangement naturally raises concerns. In 2005, the National Assembly passed a resolution barring the Executive from engaging in ‘financier-cum-supplier’ contracts, pursuant to the adverse report of the Auditor General on 18 Anglo Leasing-type projects, because of the risk of inflated pricing and quality concerns. The Public Accounts Committee that investigated those contracts and made the recommendation was then headed by our current president!

Granted that the President wants this key project to define his legacy, he should be worried about accountability issues raised. The flip side is an inflated contract that will saddle the country with huge phony debt that will further impoverish the people. He owes it to Kenyans to have this matter examined by the Auditor General rather than get agitated by calls for accountability.

The president ought to give effect to his commitment to fight corruption.

In the few months since he took office, integrity questions have been raised about a number of projects or actions of his government, including the railways project. In most cases, he has brushed aside the concerns, or simply chosen to ignore them. It’s not about him but his administration. Historically, presidency in Kenya has invariably been besieged by an invisible gluttonous ilk that has perfected the art of grand lootery. He needs to be cautious lest he fall into the machinations of these seasoned predators. Remember Kibaki’s first year? He kept denying before the bubble burst in 2004, revealing the Anglo Leasing scandals.

Keter needs to soldier on. Regrettably, politicians close to the presidency seem not to appreciate their role in the new dispensation. Unlike the past when MPs were part of the Executive by virtue of their ministerial appointments, its a new ballgame now. MPs, senators included must not be cheerleaders who kowtow to their whims. Their actions will undermine their independence and blur their judgement later when they seek to exercise their oversight mandate. As MPs, we have a greater responsibility to hold the Executive to account, our party affiliations notwithstanding. We must be able to critique government policy and actions without being branded a rebel. Sycophancy seems to have been born again but as we close 2013, let’s deliver on our expectations as Jubilee.