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For how long will the powerful rob us?

EDITORIAL
By Tania Ngima | February 9th 2016

If the current funds collected from taxpayers were handled with even half the conscientiousness expected, there would be no need to engage in the measures that often reek of short-termism and even further oppression of the electorate via increased and often retrogressive taxation.

About a year ago, I was attending a corporate governance conference as part of my remit as a non-executive director serving on a for-profit board. The most heated discussion in the room, as expected, revolved around corruption and the relationship between citizenry taxation and uses of the funds.

We had senior representatives from the revenue authority, who were unfortunately caught in the cross-hairs when the conversation shifted to the ire faced by the ever increasing tax burden that we bear, versus the use of collected levies. Of course, they did a good job of standing their ground by clarifying that the revenue authority is only responsible for collecting revenues and exerts no influence over how these funds are spent.

But as in most cases of ‘shoot the messenger’, most of us were arguing from an emotional place, and the space between fact and sentiment was now amorphous at best.

I recalled this conversation while perusing Kenya’s Budget Policy Statement for the 2016-2017 financial year. For those interested, you can find the statement on the National Treasury’s website. There is not enough room in one column to go through the document in as much detail as I would like.

However, there are certain areas where it seems like all we’re recycling is the same rhetoric regarding governance concerns. It is worth noting that the National Treasury represents the convergence of the collection of funds and the allocation or uses of funds. It should therefore play a significant role in ensuring that the interests of the electorate are represented above those of closed (and often underhanded) interest groups. It is well within the right of its officials to exercise the due care and skill that ensures they seek answers especially where fund mismanagement is concerned.

Under structural reforms, the report refers to 107 corruption and economic crime cases investigated, 11 assets worth Sh140 million traced, replaced or recovered and Sh1.6 billion saved by disruption of corrupt networks. Let’s unpack these numbers for a minute. It is interesting that the report cites 107 cases investigated but we are unable to cite a single case where public servants, especially those embroiled in massive looting have been found tried, culpable and faced punitive action taken including jailing and recovery of assets.

A Transparency International report a year ago cited that Kenya loses Sh400 billion annually to corruption. While this figure includes both the private and public sector, Sh140 million is a mere drop in the ocean at 0.035 per cent and certainly nothing to puff out our chests about.

Even if we go by the more conservative figures reported by an internal professional body, Sh60 billion, the traced amount still comes to 0.23 percent.

If it is indeed true that Sh1.6 billion was saved, why can’t the same amount of diligence be used to recover looted funds? Isn’t it convenient that a disproportionately large amount would be claimed as having been saved with scant supporting proof?

Our last experience with assertions such as the above was the NYS saga where after denying and almost convincing the public that no money had been lost and IFMIS had thwarted the fraud, we later discovered that taxpayers had indeed been fleeced of Sh791 million. And we wonder why public confidence in the political elite is fast taking a nose dive. Just like in the run up to the last election, we have become enveloped in a predictable cycle where mega scandals rear their ugly heads as politicians race against time to amass funds for their campaigns.

And of course, we are left powerless to do anything about it because the Judiciary, touted as the last hope for the common man, has not only lost the electorate’s confidence but is buckling under claims of gross misconduct and complicities.

Even where the offices of the Auditor General, the Controller of Budget and so on have enough evidence to drive punitive action, the norm has become to engage the public in denials then sweep the scandals under the carpet.

Just last week, local media reported Murang’a MCAs being investigated for claims of over Sh62.5 million paid as allowances for foreign visits to reps who never left the country. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last we hear of the transgressions, the only people who get prosecuted in Kenya are powerless taxpayers.

That the allocations to the counties are increasing amid the continuous and unrelenting cases of foul play from county representatives worries.

From claiming false allowances, foreign trips on irrelevant missions to abuse of office, it is obvious that all we are doing is rewarding dishonest behaviour.

And while the report also focuses to a large extent on county financial management and fiscal responsibility, these guidelines are not worth the paper they are written on if the impropriety that keeps being reported is anything to go by.

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