Government Needs To Put Taxes Into Good Use
I am always taken aback by how grim Nairobi weather can be in July and August – even if I hide on the sofa under a blanket, I still have an ice-cold nose like a healthy dog (whereas the intrepid doglet just wholesale hides under the blanket, nose, tail, paws and all).
Maybe applying to work with the TJRC could provide a welcome change to this: I just read, amazingly, that the TJRC – which now applied for a third extension of its deadline, never mind all the other shenanigans that went on before even getting to the report-writing stage – is actually writing its hard-to-birth report in Naivasha and Mombasa. This means that tax payers not only have to pay for the commissioners to stay in (nice, obviously) hotels in both places, but also have to pay for their travel back and forth to their ‘work place’ (yes, those are quotation marks of derision).
This subject is so tired that it seems nobody can really get hopped up about it anymore: Employed people who get paid to do a job and are given offices to do that job in – why do they need ‘sitting allowances’ (isn’t your salary the ‘sitting allowance’?) and waste tax payers’ money on hotels if they do have a perfectly good office given to them for the very purpose of doing work in – and possibly have a housing allowance that comes as part of their remuneration package?
PM Raila Odinga has been questioned in parliament over the KES1.1bn (USD12.8m) that senior public officials have spent on foreign travel since 2008 – and this figure, the Standard reports, does not include travel by the president, deputy prime ministers, and Ministries of Local Government, Justice, Regional Development, and Tourism. And this is just the foreign travel budget, mind you. I bet that despite offices usually being equipped with meeting rooms, there’s a good amount of domestic travel going on (and being paid for by the tax payer) as well.
There’s a specific sub-set of pointless foreign travel that I recently thought about: Traveling abroad for a due diligence – for example in the case of Chinese Fenxi Mining. It’s the usual muddled story: Almost a year ago, Fenxi won bids for two coal blocks in the Mui Basin, Kitui County, to explore and produce coal. Easypeasy? No. Capital FM report that ‘over the past six months, four Kenyan delegations have visited China to inspect Fenxi’s facilities.’ The local MP had taken a delegation of 13 people to China to check on the company in May 2012.
This is reportedly because there are allegations that Fenxi did not exist in either Kenya or China, and that, according to Mrs Charity Ngilu, ‘The company is a briefcase one being pushed by a clique of powerful individuals in politics and business circles angling for the deal at the expense of the project and the people of Kitui County.’ There are a lot of local shenanigans going on, too, for example a dispute between the PS and the local MP over who can actually grant such licenses.
This makes my head hurt: For one, surely you define a tender process and the surrounding formalities to ensure that only credibly bidders with sufficient finances apply – and this can include a bid bond from a respected bank, evidence of previous similar projects, references etc. This is all well-established standard practice, not rocket science, and has been done before. Even Kenyan officials must be familiar with this (especially after the government bought non-existent security technology from non-existent firms and then reportedly received refunds from those non-existent firms, making the AngloLeasing scam non-existent, too. Magic!).
Second, if you do a due diligence, especially in a country that you are not very familiar with, especially in a country whose (quite complicated) language you don’t speak, you don’t send a bunch of MPs and assorted officials. You save the money for air travel, hotels, daily allowances etc, and call a corporate investigations firm that can obtain corporate records, has networks for people on the ground, and understands the country. You call the professionals. And at this stage, you don’t do a due diligence to find out whether the company actually exists – that’s something you weed out in the earliest stages.
This reminds me of the biometric voter registration technology tender where the frontrunner, an Indian firm, complained about having been asked repeatedly by Kenya’s officials to hand over some cash so that a ‘favourable letter’ can be written. I’m sure this would be less offensive if, umm, Kenyans weren’t regularly starving to death when the rains fail. Or live on a couple of shillings a day, having to decide whether to buy dinner for the family or take the sick kid to the doctor. You know the score. I’m not going to trot out more clichés. In fact, this entirely piece is the equivalent of a rhetorical question. Don’t mind me.