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Giving Passats without controlling their use won’t cut costs Godwin Siundu

By | November 8th 2009 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Is single sourcing for national facilities any worse or better than cutting on public costs by personal fiat? This seems to be the question that was thrown to the public by Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive regarding ministerial official vehicles and Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang’s response, which insinuated corrupt behaviour by his colleague.

Many Kenyans welcomed the directive that Cabinet ministers and other senior government officials replace their expensive cars with Volkswagen Passats.

There is a national consensus that Government needs to cut down on recurrent expenditure. Successive Finance ministers have made bold pronouncements about austerity measures and the like, but with very little success.

Recently, Kajwang threw a tantrum vowing never to comply with Uhuru’s directive. Many others have expressed their reservations about the directive, while some have chosen the less politically risky approach of neither protesting against the directive nor returning the vehicles.

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To be fair to Kajwang, he may have been his shrilly self but still raised important questions regarding the procedure of instituting such cost cutting measures. So far, there is little evidence to suggest that the decision to acquire the Passats was informed by selfish, corrupt motives.

But, as lawyers are wont to say, there is a reasonable likelihood of doubt in the transparency with which the sourcing was done. It may well be that no kickbacks were demanded or paid, but for purposes of transparency and accountability, it is important that the issue of single sourcing is addressed to restore public faith in the whole initiative.

Treasury should note that Kajwang is not the only one suspicious of the whole thing. Indeed, the behaviour of this regime in general is such that one cannot help but see a scheme in every move the Government or its senior officials make.

Uhuru should also know that respect for procedure is an important component in the development of strong institutions that serve the interests of the larger country. He may have his good intentions in making such changes, but he should remember that he will not always be the big man at Treasury. By adhering to procedure, Uhuru will give it meaning and help rebuild confidence in the same institutions. That will be the only time that he can ignore his critics with a clear conscience.

Having said that, using smaller capacity vehicles without internalising the spirit behind the initiative may not translate to much savings. As motoring experts argue, making many unnecessary journeys even with small vehicles can be very costly. So whether one is driving a Mercedes Benz, a Passat or Pajero, the number of journeys made is a key factor in consumption.

So buying the Passats is only the first step, and the only one about which Uhuru may have a direct say. Other measures like controlling their usage once the vehicles are handed over to the other ministries can only be successful if the officials using them uphold the spirit of austerity.

All government officials, even those who returned their Benzes for the Passats, should follow up their actions by ensuring that they help this country cut on costs.

—Dr Siundu ([email protected]) teaches literature at the University of Nairobi

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