The recent move by the Budget and Appropriations Committee (BAC) to reduce legislators’ foreign and domestic travel expenses by Sh2.8 billion for next year is nothing short of commendable in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
The decision was presented in a report estimating parliamentary revenue and expenditure for the 2020-21 financial year by the BAC.
Covid-19 has taken a toll not only on families and communities, but on government budgets as well.
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It is no secret that the country’s revenue performance has taken a hit, but this is also nothing to be ashamed of; it is a simple reality globally.
The National Assembly and Senate have historically been allocated billions of shillings for their travel expenses. Reports of our elected representatives splashing millions of shillings on accommodation in fancy hotels abroad at the expense of the taxpayer are all too common. This is corruption, plain and simple.
Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani, who took over the position after his predecessor Henry Rotich was arrested and charged with suspected corruption, in his budget proposals presented in Parliament last week did a commendable job in balancing the books under the current circumstances.
He hitherto seems to be a perfect fit for the job. President Uhuru Kenyatta, by firing Rotich, sent the message that no one is immune to the anti-corruption purge, not least the person entrusted with the country’s coffers.
Proper oversight over budgetary allocations is not a problem unique with Kenya. There are not enough citizen watchdog groups or bureaucrats to make sure that money that goes into the national coffers, both through taxes and investments, is being reinvested into the country in the most effective and responsible way possible.
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Unfortunately, this sometimes allows for little things to slip through the cracks. It allows for corruption to fester, becoming part of the national culture.
And as we all have come to learn, Kenya is one of the countries where corruption is part of our everyday life. But it does not have to be that way. Taking small steps, it is possible to overcome this stain on Kenya’s political fabric.
There seems to be goodwill from the highest office in the land to slay the dragon of corruption, but it will take a concerted effort from all public officials.
It has to trickle down to the Senate and National Assembly, where leaders who have in the past taken advantage of their positions to line their pockets while not providing value for money to those who put them in office will have to learn that being an elected official calls for greater responsibility.
Leadership should be synonymous with serving the people, doing everything in their power to make Kenya a better country, starting with accountability in the budgeting process, especially in light of the havoc the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking on ordinary Kenyans; every coin has to count now more than ever.
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The anti-corruption crusade has also to spread to the common mwananchi as well as the private and public sectors. We have to move away from our accustomed way of doing business; enough is enough.
If anything, the Covid-19 crisis should give a renewed push to the anti-corruption campaign, with the country expected to enter a critical stage in the spread of the disease. And while the virus is a relatively new disease, corruption is a longstanding one that we have not been able to shake off all these years.
But perhaps the time has come for some major, critical changes. No one is immune from either disease. The only question is if we will choose to take the necessary prophylactic measures or not.
[The writer, Kizito Temba, is the Personal Assistant to the Devolution and ASALs Cabinet Secretary]