Don't forget or repeat mistakes that cost Kenya billions

Members of the public seeking services queue at Nyayo House. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Spanish Philosopher George Santayana once said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This aphorism provides the rationale to delve into history to unearth some of the scandals that cost Kenya dearly. There are insidious ones where payment was made for work that was never done.

Top of the list are canceled contracts. These have gained a disturbing notoriety for their frequency and cost to the public. The Kibaki administration, in its first term, was blighted by the Anglo-Leasing scandal. This was a procurement scandal ostensibly to replace Kenya’s passport printing system with a more efficient and modern one. It also involved forensic science laboratories for the police sourced from Britain.

The finance minister at the time cancelled payments to a foreign firm with which the government signed the Anglo-Leasing contract. Subsequently, no goods or services were delivered to Kenya. The government lost  Sh6.8 billion. Last year, the last of the suspects implicated in the loss were acquitted for lack of evidence. The magistrate ruled that, “it was clear the entire procurement procedures were followed and budget allocation for the project was in order, hence no reason to charge the accused persons.” He further said, “the government had a legal obligation to pay the contractual fees.”

Another cancellation that cost Kenyans dearly is the Greenfield terminal project. Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) advertised and awarded an international tender for the design and construction of a new terminal. However soon after ground-breaking, the Transport ministry ordered KAA to have the tender cancelled and instituted afresh. Following a back and forth between multiple stakeholders and years later, the contract was eventually terminated. Initially, the contractor sought Sh17.6 billion for the breach of contract. This was reduced to Sh8.9 billion and paid out.

Yet another cancelled contract that has bled the country is the Arror and Kimwarer dams project. After awarding the contract to two Italian companies, it was cancelled. These companies have tried to recover Sh12.9 billion in damages for the cancellation of contracts. Former Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and eight others were acquitted of corruption charges over the dams scandal. The trial magistrate who set them free said they had no case to answer.

The thorny problem of abominably slow passport issuance still persists today. The long waiting period following an application would have been obviated by the purchase of efficient printers as intended by the Anglo-Leasing deal. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport struggles to handle the eight million passengers who pass through Kenya’s premier gateway annually. Built to handle just two million passengers yearly, the airport is bursting at the seams literally and figuratively. The need to move from rain-fed agriculture to irrigation is yet to be met. Lack of dams threatens to upend Kenya’s plans to be food secure.

A salutary lesson obtains. Project cancellations that are driven by Executive caprice rather than cogent rationale are inimical to citizens. They should not be repeated. Those who, in a fit of pique, cause losses to taxpayers should be surcharged for such profligate blunders.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst  

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