While the rest of the world was frantic, putting in place measures to preclude the spread of the virus, our Executive assumed a cavalier attitude.
Indecisiveness is a hallmark of the Executive. The extent of procrastination on matters of national importance has always handed citizens the short end of the stick.
A case in point is the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. While the rest of the world was frantic, putting in place measures to preclude the spread of the virus, our Executive assumed a cavalier attitude. At some point, a Cabinet secretary regaled us with tales about protecting the country’s commercial interests.
That was in the wake of public outrage following the government’s decision to allow a Chinese plane to land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport despite China being the epicentre of coronavirus. Instructively, most countries had banned international flights and declared lockdowns.
No sooner had the first coronavirus case in Kenya been confirmed - upon which President Uhuru Kenyatta outlined measures to contain it - than some duplicitous Cabinet secretaries came out to issue edicts in succession. The import of such belated, even perfunctory action, is that Cabinet secretaries are beholden to the presidency and cannot independently exercise authority bestowed upon them. If Cabinet secretaries must constantly look over their shoulders to seek presidential approval, even for minor tasks, they are an unnecessary drain on the exchequer.
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It is incumbent upon the Cabinet, guided by the principle of collective responsibility, to meet regularly, make policies and advice the president accordingly. As it is now, it seems that CSs wait for directives from the president to execute their mandates.
Not that President Uhuru Kenyatta has his CSs on a short leash; they are simply lackadaisical as to cast Uhuru’s leadership as benignly totalitarian. Kenya deserves the likes of former Cabinet ministers Arthur Magugu, Karisa Maitha and John Michuki who eschewed the comforts of their offices for the practical; going out to the field, making sure everything worked as it was meant to.
Edicts issuing out of top public offices underscore the disconnect between holders of those offices and the reality. Granted, we have to avoid congested places because of coronavirus, but what has the government done to decongest, say, the rickety Likoni and Mtongwe ferries plying between the two islands and Mombasa mainland? What has it done about estates in which human density and haphazard planning pose serious health threats? Just one positive coronavirus case in such environments and we would be having a national disaster on our hands.
But even more than the coronavirus itself, we face existential threats from the periphery of the pandemic. The economy, especially, is in for a rough ride. With partial lockdown, worsening inflation, unemployment and bank interest rates that discourage borrowing, we can only expect the worst with constricted cash flow. It is doubtful that our national food reserves will hold out for long if the coronavirus scare continues for months. The panic shopping in Nairobi when coronavirus was declared is an indicator we could run out of food and other essentials if any more cases are reported. Closure of businesses doesn’t help matters.
Job losses in the hospitality and tourism industries, given cancellations that attended the ban on international flights, are looming large. This is reminiscent of what followed travel advisories in 2015 through to 2016 over the threat of terrorism in Kenya. Added to this, inability to export tea and coffee, our major foreign exchange earners, means our economic performance will tank significantly.
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The temporal closure of courts heralds anarchy. It means that one cannot even go to court to challenge the peculiar order by Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya that all public mortuaries in the county remain closed for 30 days, and that people who lose a loved one must bury their dead immediately as a means of avoiding gatherings during the traditional three-day mourning period, according to some Luhya customs.
Besides, such an order is insensitive to those who cannot, on their own, afford to buy costly coffins. Political expediency does not give Oparanya the right to ride roughshod over poor people and upset customs and traditions that transcend centuries. There are better ways of going round the conundrum posed by Covid-19.
Nevertheless, there are lessons in the coronavirus scare. Had government invested in laptops as it promised, the hurried closure of schools would have been a minor inconvenience since learning would have continued on the web.
Government should also invest more in public hospitals. Senior government officials often seek medical attention abroad at the expense of indigent taxpayers. Coronavirus should be a wake-up call; that a time comes when what you have is all you will ever get. It makes a case for prudent and extensive investment in agriculture to ensure food security.
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Mr Chagema is a copy editor at The [email protected]