In whose hands? The State must disclose deals with other entities

A cargo ship loaded with cars docks at Mombasa port on June 19, 2022. [Omondi Onyango,Standard]

Kenya’s narrative on corruption revolves around denial, scapegoating and hypocrisy. That is why last week’s instalment of this column wondered who ‘we’ refers to in the question, “In whose hands are we safe?”

Our institution of government resides in top-heavy cartels. A former Chief Justice described ours as “a bandit economy.” It is difficult to tell whether cartels are in government, or the government itself is a cartel. That is why Kenyans have stumbled, this week, into tales of smoky deals around some of the country’s prime national assets. 

The retiring government of President Uhuru Kenyatta has been caught with its pants down. This government, whose top honchos and friends are in the habit of calling others “thieves”, and shouting, “mwizi, mwizi!” has been caught in the process of secretly giving components of the ports in Mombasa, Lamu and Kisumu to dubitable business people.

In a highly surreptitious deal, from conception to discovery, the National Treasury was in the final stages of sealing a dark deal with a Dubai company. The Finance Cabinet Secretary, Ukur Yattani, confirms they have been in talks. 

Kenya Kwanza Alliance accuses the government of “hurriedly and secretly handing over strategic and security assets to a foreign entity.” It is not just a heavy indictment against the government. The revelation must fill us up with sadness and despair. The Jubilee government is famous for calling out people believed to be grandmasters of corruption. Some are occasionally dragged through police corridors and, sometimes, paraded before the courts, with pompous energy. Their matters soon fizzle away. They will be restored should the people fall out with the national Executive.  

We may not know the whole truth behind this matter, yet there is cause to believe it is an underhand deal, in which senior persons in the Jubilee government have keen personal interest. The smoking gun is a letter by the Finance Cabinet Secretary, to the Arab country. It indicates that their company has already been selected for various assignments, worth hundreds of billions of shillings, at the ports. 

What is left to seal the deal is captured in a few words about a proposal the Arabs have been invited to present, “The proposal should include an implementation plan for each project.”

The company “is expected to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the Government of Kenya to enable access to information and documents to facilitate the preparation of the detailed commercial proposal.”  

Then comes the clincher, “The Attorney General, who is the legal adviser of the government, has already cleared this.”

Why the secrecy? This saga is only the latest dark affair in Kenya’s fourth government. Even as this government prepares to retire next month, the matter of Sh450 billion on SGR remains cloudy.

The courts ordered sometime back that the government should publicise SGR agreements. The order has been ignored, with impunity. Separately, strange narratives have been told about the Nairobi Expressway and its private partners. They will collect levies for 60 years.

There is cause to believe that powerful Kenyan citizens are hiding behind foreign investors in both the expressway and SGR. In the absence of transparency on the part of government, I choose to believe these apocryphal narratives. 

Meanwhile, like everybody else, I am still waiting for 21 days to lapse, since August 25 last year, for details on the Kemsa billionaires, in line with the president’s directive of that day. We are also waiting for another 21 days to go, so that our president can give us the comprehensive report he promised on the Pandora Papers.

The president promised, in October last year, to give a comprehensive report on disclosures regarding trillions of shillings in the tax havens of Panama and Jersey Islands. Where did the money come from, and how? Why did it seem to be hiding in offshore accounts? 

These, and many more other concerns, leave us with more questions than we could answer. Hence, when we hear the question, “In whose hands are we safe?” we must pause to reflect on who is asking the question and why. The war on corruption, for its part, remains a big joke. 

Dr Barrack Muluka is a strategic communications advisor.