Day Jomo promised Sh60,000 the State could not raise

Jomo Kenyatta dances with Kericho Headquarters Primary School pupils during his tour of Lake Nakuru on June 23, 1978. [File, Standard]

It is the season of promises. All manner of things are being promised by politicians who treat government funds as a never-ending pool of resources.

Some promises are well-meaning although not anchored in any law or supported by budgetary allocations while others are outright ridiculous.

This season of empty promises brings back memories of a day when Mzee Jomo Kenyatta ignited a crisis in his government by sneaking out of Nairobi into Rift Valley and promised what even the Treasury couldn’t fulfill. This left top civil servants in the Treasury and Education ministries scratching their heads.

At the time, Kanu and Kadu were tussling for power and Kenya had just promulgated its Independence Constitution, which had entrenched the majimbo system.

Under this government structure, each of the eight regions was under a semi-autonomous president. Kenyatta was a prime minister and allied to Kanu while Rift Valley, under Daniel Moi, was Kadu.

One day in 1960, Kenyatta visited his friend William Murgor without involving his office or the regional president. Top government officials were in the dark.

In a bid to boost his friend Murgor and his own standing in Rift Valley, Kenyatta promised that his government would donate Sh60,000 to Kapkenda Girls High School. At the time, Murgor was the chairman of the school’s board.

“I read about the donation in the press the following day. At the Ministry of Education, we were not aware that the prime minister was to visit the school. When I telephoned Geoff Ellerton of the PM’s office, he too had no idea,” the Education Permanent Secretary Kenneth Matiba wrote in his memoirs Aiming High.

Matiba was perplexed because he did not have a vote from which this money could be drawn. The PM’s office too had nothing.

When Matiba called John Butter at the Treasury, he confirmed that he did not have an account where Kenyatta’s donation could be drawn from and had no idea where the money could be extracted.

He wrote a letter to Ellerton informing him that he had to look for money since it was his boss who had made the commitment.

After the incident, it was decided that if a minister wanted something irregular or that which contradicted the rules, they had to commit themselves in writing.

This was because the PS was the accounting officer and if the Auditor General raised any queries about such irregular spending, he could be held personally liable.