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February 23, 2019

Rampant theft will hurt public finances

I don’t know about you, but it’s difficult to keep track, isn’t it? 

You might have spent a bit of time following the details of the billions that went safari from the health ministry, or tried to keep up with the bags, literal, not figurative bags of cash that were allegedly carted away from NYS accounts. 

Do you still remember all the people who reportedly collected funds in both cases? Did you keep reading about the auditor general and his assessment of how little of the Government of Kenya’s spending could actually be properly accounted for? 

Did you read up about his auditing of county finances, the spending without any evidence of what happened with the money, and the documented, but pointless spending on travel allowances and such joyrider expenses?

Most of what the media cover is the mismanagement of public finances, and this should be a concern to all of us: after all, these are your taxes that are being stolen or spent frivolously. 

And the impact of this is real: If funds are stolen, then important and necessary things don’t happen, for example in the provision of healthcare, or education, or infrastructure, or simply relief food.

I had several conversations about this in the past few days, and the general impression is that theft is out of control: getting significantly worse, and not just because devolution introduced a whole new layer of theft, but also because there appears to be no political will at all to act. 

Would this be different under a different government? 

No – merely different snouts in the trough (and this is, incidentally, the real risk for any foreign and even local investor in Kenya: not that there’d be a significant change in policy. None of the party ‘vehicles’ actually has substantiated policies. But the change of people would be a headache because new people would need to eat, too).

But in a conversation, a friend pointed out that while we’re busy worrying about the public sector, theft in the private sector – thought to be rising just as well – will affect public finances, too: The aggregate of fraud losses will, in fact, lead to tax losses as well.

Where do we go from here? I honestly don’t know. Remember the recent survey results that large percentage of young people did not see anything wrong with corruption as long as you weren’t caught and it made you rich? Remember the knee-jerk reaction to allegations of corruption by politicians – ‘I’m being finished’? 

Remember the fact that the drugging, rapist ‘doctor’ and the recently caught fake ‘doctor’ are not in prison, but running for public office?

Answers on a postcard.


The writer is an independent country risk analyst

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