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Pray, tell me, why are we like this?

By Ken Opalo | August 8th 2020

To say that the Jubilee administration has lost its moral right to govern would be a gross understatement. In the midst of a pandemic that has killed almost 400 Kenyans (according to official estimates), shut down schools and churches, and crippled large sections of the economy, it recently emerged that a number of well-connected individuals are profiteering from the pandemic.

According to news reports, these individuals formed briefcase companies with the express purpose of getting Covid-19-related contracts to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, then proceeded to engage in price gauging. A company that was barely three months old was awarded a multi billion-shilling contract. Why are we like this?

While the particular individuals involved should be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, this emerging scandal is an indictment of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration. Dozens of Kenyans are dying each month. And millions more face precarious economic futures due to the pandemic. Schools are closed for the rest of the year, with many parents left to their own devices by the government on account of poor planning from the Ministry of Education.

And yet, even in the middle of all this, a section of elites found it prudent to steal from the public and was able to do so because those in charge did not care enough to protect the pandemic response from the well-established tenderpreneurs that have dogged this administration from the start.

This is as much a failure by President Kenyatta and his government, as it is a violation of public finance laws by the particular individuals involved. A government for which nothing is sacred and protected from theft – not food relief money or healthcare budgets – has no moral right to be in power. Old habits die hard. Even during pandemics. Most Kenyans know this much, and suspected that the alleged theft of “Covid-19 billions” would come to pass. Many will recall initial suspicions over corruption at the Ministry of Health when it emerged that they were spending enormous amounts of money on tea and refreshments and the leasing of ambulances.

We were told that everything was fine, and that the media was exaggerating. Yet with the latest scandal, it is obvious for all to see that the Ministry of Health did not put in adequate measures to ensure that money meant for containing this unprecedented public health emergency was not stolen. What is the point of having a Treasury if any briefcase company with connections to high-ranking politicians can casually steal public resources?

And why did Parliament pro-actively put in place reporting safeguards to prevent this from happening? This administration has proven time and again that public finance management is not its forte. As such, it should not have got this far for Parliament to start investigating procurement practices related to Covid-19 mitigation and relief efforts.

Given their initial insouciance, a cynic might be forgiven for thinking that they are motivated by nothing but a desire to get a piece of the Covid-19 billions. Indeed, it is telling that in the same week that news of this scandal broke, it also emerged that legislators were working to award themselves hefty pensions, including expensive medical cover.

Given the crass shamelessness of our leaders, one wonders what it will take for them to behave differently. Why is it that not even a major pandemic could summon our better angels? Our corruption is of a very ruinous kind. And it will most certainly get worse. The human cost of corruption and elite incompetence will only go up.   

- The writer is a professor at Georgetown University.  

Covid 19 Time Series


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