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January 22, 2019

The Passion Against Graft

At the onset, the case against Mumo Matemu for the post of chairman of the anti-graft body, EACC, was that he, along with his proposed deputies, lacked passion to fight corruption. This was the verdict of the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs, in December 2011. Additional legal hurdles have since prevented Matemu from taking his seat.

Nonetheless, the public was unconvinced that candidates could be disqualified from holding public posts for lacking passion, an immeasurable, and in any case, easy to fake quality. On a routine and what promised to be a boring assignment to cover the newly-formed Ministry of Nairobi Metropolitan Development, one of those functions you attend to merely pick up the press release and official speeches, I experienced passion in the person of Mutula Kilonzo.

In explaining how he intended to transform the Nairobi metropolitan area, the minister presented a series of charts, artists impressions, and funding models that would create a modern metropolis encompassing Limuru, Thika, Athi River, Ngong and Kikuyu Towns and even Machakos. He acted like he believed it and actually, plans to hive off the City Planning and City Engineer's departments from City Hall to the new ministry ran afoul of Grand Coalition politics with the then Local Government ministry headed by Musalia Mudavadi viewing this as encroachment on its turf and blocking the plans at the Prime Minister's office.

At his last stop as minister, the Education Ministry, his ban on holiday tuition, while unpopular with teachers (not out of passion for remedial teaching but since it denied them extra income), nonetheless demonstrated Mutula's passion to each of his assignments. Indeed, after the late John Michuki, no minister was as hardworking as the fallen Mutula and his work in each of the ministries he left, remains as testament to this.

In vetting cabinet secretary nominees next week, parliament's Committee on Appointments can be expected to assess among other things, the passion each man or woman brings to their expected roles. Hoping that they have developed some kind of 'passionometer' For these are significantly larger bureaucracies than ministers in the previous administration had to deal with.

The giant Education Ministry for example, the gobbler of over Sh130billion annually, and Mutula's former docket, will now be merged with Higher Education, Science and Technology. Agriculture, the mother ministry of 30-plus parastatals, will now also enjoin Livestock and Fisheries. But the granddaddy of them all, and the subject of this column, is the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry. It brings together Roads and Public Works as well as Transport which will include Railways, Ports and Airports and Oil pipelines. On its own, the Roads ministry has been the gorilla in the room with a massive Sh85billion development budget.

With the expected development of the Lapsset corridor of roads, railways and pipelines, as well as ongoing expansion of the road network, the Sh 125.7 billion budgetary allocation makes it one of the highest funded. Which brings us to President Uhuru Kenyatta's choice to head this ministry and the vetting process. Engineer Michael Kamau, nominee for cabinet secretary, Transport and Infrastructure, certainly does not lack passion. Indeed, members of the vetting committee will no doubt be impressed by Eng. Kamau's extensive knowledge of the roads network in the country. He can name, at the drop of a hat, the most obscure and remote of roads along with attendant details of expected developments, funding for the road and timelines. He should; before he was appointed PS in 2007, Eng. Kamau was for many years the Chief Roads Engineer at the ministry.

Which means, he not only knows Kenyan roads, but he also knows who builds them. The roads sector has made tremendous strides during the last 10 years with Thika Superhighway being the flagship of these projects but there have been some disappointments. From Museum Hill roundabout, to Rironi on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, a stretch of about 30-kilometres, a contractor has ostensibly been re-carpeting the badly worn road. That impression quickly fades when you venture out past Uthiru, the border of Nairobi and Kiambu counties along that highway.

No word has been given as to why such a visible project can be ignored and the contractor allowed to rest his tools without finishing the job. Similar stories are repeated in less prominent projects. A contractor once assigned to build the Thogoto-Mutarakwa stretch that will eventually connect, the southern bypass to the Maai-Mahiu road, and potentially shift heavy trucks from the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, gave up on the project only to resurface in another part of the country working on a similarly crucial project that connects Kenya and Tanzania. Word is, that project has not been progressing so well.

It must then be asked of Eng. Kamau, does he have, passion to fight corruption in a ministry with one of the largest budgetary allocations? In his trademark, no-nonsense style, Kamau's predecessor at this ministry, albeit for a short time, John Michuki, once cancelled the contracts of two contractors for non-performance. He did so with Kamau by his side as PS. "The Government cannot have its image be ruined by people it is paying money.

Both road users and the public blame the Government for bad roads" said Michuki then (2008). He went further to say he would blacklist all contractors who were not performing. It is now 2013. Some contractors are still not performing. Eng. Kamau knows them for he has been in the ministry long enough. Why hasn't anything been done about them? Has it been Grand Coalition complexities? As cabinet secretary, why should we believe that these cowboy contractors will abandon their wild west habits and continue walking around untouched?

A curious reason that Roads' officials give when asked these questions is that the law only allows a major contractor to handle a maximum of two projects at a time (category A). This then leaves them with no option but to award the other projects to smaller outfits that would otherwise not win them at bidding.

Which then raises the questions; should the ministry be allocated funds for projects it does not have capacity to execute? Who takes responsibility when these short-handed contractors bungle public works? Given that the former ministry of transport has itself had its share of scandals, these questions must be asked of Eng. Kamau and his fellow nominees. Do they have the passion to fight corruption?

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