Mafya house scam is a political game

A file photo of Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu./MONICAH MWANGI
A file photo of Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu./MONICAH MWANGI

The biggest story in the country is the Sh5.3 billion Mafya House Scandal in the ministry of Health. However, in this story, we have failed to note that this is an example of why Kenya is not winning the war on corruption.

First, here is an uncomfortable background.

One, when the government announces it has an annual Sh2 trillion budget, what it means is that it will collect Sh2 trillion through taxation, aid, grants and bonds and then use this money to provide goods and services to Kenyans. However, because it is not the government that manufactures these goods, it will have to procure from third parties — through government contracting. Essentially, part of the Sh2 trillion will be used to pay the suppliers of these goods and services.

Two, political power determines not only where the government resources are allocated but also which businesses will supply or deliver these goods and services. This is why politicians compete to get into government, or to form it. It is also the reason why prominent local and international businesspeople finance or sponsor politicians’ campaigns. Politicians need resources to get into office. Businesspeople on the other hand want access to government business and tenders when the politicians get into office.

Three, there is nothing illegal about what I have discussed above. The opportunity to do business with the government is open to everyone. Government contracting is actually the most-sought-after business opportunity in the world. It is not a crime to do business with government. In fact, if no one did business with government, its operations would obviously come to a halt after failing to deliver on its policies.

Four, corruption is a process. When the process of how the government does business is accessed

and is aboveboard and as per laid-down regulations, there is no problem. When it is not, then that is corruption. Why we will not win the war on corruption is because we are criminalising doing business with the government.

When Kathleen Kihanya and Nyokabi Kenyatta — independent and mature women running their own homes and businesses — benefit from government business, we are told they are corrupt. When we ask why they are corrupt, we are told it’s because they are doing business with government, yet their relative is the President.

Are we assuming they don’t have bills to pay because they have a relative in the government? And if you accuse them of being corrupt because they come from a prominent family, what about my village mate Paul Ndung’u, who comes from the other end of the spectrum: A very humble background?

The saddest thing is that the opposition leaders leading the attacks against Kihanya, Nyokabi and Ndung’u are themselves beneficiaries of government contracts. They are also being financed by the beneficiaries of the same government contracts.

In fact one of them, who is from a prominent family as well, has interests in gas cylinder supply to the government, is the largest producer of ethanol and the sole supplier of jet fuel to Kenya Airways. A company associated with him was also the sole supplier of bitumen for the construction of the Thika Superhighway.

On this Mafya House Scandal, we should be questioning whether the process through which tenders were issued was free and fair, and what these companies delivered. Instead, we are discussing certain ‘prominent people’ who did business with the government. This is not fighting corruption:This is playing politics.

But I guess it is more interesting to play politics than fight graft in Kenya.