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Thursday, July 27, 2017

The people vs tenderpreneurs: The fight for space in political parties manifestos


Besides giving Kenyans a glimpse of the elite pork politics and boardroom wars that characterise the making of political manifestos, last Friday’s revelations by the Star newspaper of the intrigues, push and pull surrounding the making of NASA’s manifesto should give Kenyans reason to reflect upon the value, place and meaning of manifestos in our politics.

Invariably manifestos are top-down schemes by rival sections of the ruling elites to win political power and hardly do they increase or decrease support for any party, though they are good for solidarity of party supporters.

However, as a result of the controversy surrounding the publication of a parallel manifesto for NASA by associates of seasoned tenderpreneurs and grand architects of previous mega corruption scams, Kenyans are waking up to the reality that manifestos may not be as innocent as they sound.

For example, during the 2013 general election someone got Jubilee to promise laptops for standard one children within 100 days. The voting patterns in the 2013 presidential election results have no indication that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory could be attributed to the laptop promise. Personally, I believe the project was not a top priority in a country where the majority of secondary schools have no science laboratories.

Nevertheless, whenever tender fights over procurement of the laptops erupted, the media would fill up with stories about how Jubilee was failing to deliver on its key campaign promise. I am unaware of any significant public demand for laptops.

The way I see it is that in lobbying for inclusion of specific projects in manifestos the tenderpreneurs-cum-campaign financiers are effectively buying political insurance for their financial contributions in three key respects.

First, these projects have been accorded special priority status and are supposed to be implemented within tight schedules to guarantee that before the principals in a new administration learn their way in the dark world of project finance or groom their own brokers, the campaign financiers would have been paid their commissions.

Secondly, through the manifesto the prerogative and autonomy of the incoming Cabinet and Parliament to determine national economic agenda and allocation of resources are curtailed or compromised in advance.

Thirdly, the inclusion of these projects in the manifesto enables the tenderpreneurs to subsequently disguise their private schemes as the national agenda on the basis of which the government was voted into power.

Logically, from the standpoint of tenderpreneurs, regime change every five years is the best-case scenario because an opposition coalition is more vulnerable to their demands than the incumbent, which is likely to curry the favour of established businesses with vested interest in policy continuity.

Viewed this way, we should probably thank Dr David Ndii and his reformist associates in NASA for their objections to the growing influence of tenderpreneurs in their coalition.

From a public interest standpoint, there are three reasons why Kenyans should be sceptical about manifestos and their place in national economic planning and management.

First, Kenya is a poor country enjoined under Article 201 of its Constitution to use public money in a prudent and responsible way whilst ensuring openness and accountability, including public participation. Given that none of the coalition and political parties have engaged their supporters in making their manifestos, it is obvious that the preferences of party owners and principals should not be viewed as legally binding after the election.

In my view, after winning power the winning coalition should review its manifesto to align it with the public interest and priorities, otherwise a manifesto can easily become an instrument of corruption.

Secondly, Articles 95 and 96 of the Constitution vest in the National Assembly and Senate the mandate to determine, allocate and appropriate national revenue to national government, the counties and national state organs. This collective responsibility should never be subordinated to manifestos written in boardrooms and exclusive hotels.

Finally, the majority of the special projects in the political manifestos will have to be financed through foreign borrowing. Under Article 214 of the Constitution public debt is a charge on the Consolidated Fund. There is obvious danger that manifesto–backed projects will deprive the country of resources to finance projects that may be more useful and justified.

Likewise such projects can easily secure sovereign immunity from prosecution for their promoters in case of any corruption because government officials would be compromised in advance to allow the tenderpreneurs to recover their political investment. Hence, there will be no political will to fight corruption relating to procurement and financing of such projects.

To conclude, the apparent discovery by the corruption cartels of the value of manifestos presents the spectre of fragile countries being bankrupted by corruption or auctioning their sovereignty for 30 pieces of silver.

The writer is a constitutional lawyer ([email protected]).

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