Consider national security in bid to privatise firms

Telkom mobile phone subscribers queue to upgrade their new sim cards registration Telkom house, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Former State House Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua this week made a startling revelation regarding the sale of Telkom Kenya, first to Orange East Africa Ltd, which later sold its stake to Helios Investors LLP/Jamhuri Holding Limited (JHL).

Appearing before a joint sitting of the National Assembly Finance and National Planning and the Communication, Innovation and Information committees to explain circumstances that led to release of Sh6.2 billion from the National Treasury to buy back the 60 per cent stake Helios held in the telecommunications company without Parliament's approval, Mr Kinyua raised the security concerns behind the move.

Though he acknowledged that the deal might have been irregularly rushed, his disclosure that the issue of reverting the strategic parastatal to the government following discussions at the National Security Council (NSC) is what should concern us most especially at this time when there is a rush to dispose off more parastatals including some that serve national interest.

According to Kinyua, it is the security agencies that raised the red flag that the decision to sell Telkom Kenya 15 years ago ignored the fact that it was a vital asset of national security significance.

This is because Telkom Kenya has since its establishment as a corporation in 1999, been providing critical communication services to the Office of the President, State House, the Government Data Centre, the ministries of Defence and Interior, the National Police Service, Nyali and Mombasa landing stations, Parliament and other agencies.

Hands of outsiders

At the moment, there is no evidence that national security was compromised during the time Orange East Africa and Helios called the shots at the telco.

But that does not eliminate the fact that national telecommunications especially within strategic institutions is so important that it must never be left in the hands of outsiders.

This is especially so because with the evolving nature of threats against nation states either from terrorist groups or other nation states, utmost care must be taken to ensure there are no opportunities for Kenya's enemies to infiltrate our national security.

In Somalia, for instance, intelligence reports indicate that Al-Shabaab has infiltrated key government institutions, financial institutions, businesses and communication companies.

Given the threat it poses to Kenya, we must be careful how we run our strategic institutions to make sure they do not fall into the hands of terrorists.

It is particularly for this reason why we urge the government to reconsider its push to divorce the process of privatisation of State entities from Parliament.

At the same time, plans to further divest from key institutions such as Kenya Power and KenGen should be carefully considered.

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