OUTRIGHT THEFT

Major scams occur in times of crises

It's at such times that cartels make their biggest profits, supplying overpriced equipment.

In Summary
  • Take for example the schools “free laptops” programme launched during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term.
  • Then consider the National Youth Programme, which was to provide technical skills to those who could not proceed to institutions of higher learning.

In health, as in education, the rich can often provide for themselves while the poor are entirely at the mercy of the services provided by the government. So far, our government has been keen to showcase the creation of isolation facilities, and the disinfection of streets and buildings.

For any long-time observer of Kenyan politics, perhaps nothing is more depressing than the kind of state projects that are invariably targeted by the “cartels” we hear so much about. Used properly, the word cartel merely refers to organisations such as the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC), which acts to ensure that the global prices of petroleum remain advantageous to its member nations.

But a Kenyan cartel is simply a group of individuals, who work with top government officials to steal as much as they can from the national treasury. And what they tend to focus on is, specifically, those government projects intended to help the poor.

Take for example the schools “free laptops” programme launched during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term. The children of the middle class were not likely to be very excited over this as they already have access to computers in their homes. It is the children of the poor who were supposed to benefit. It turned into a huge mess, with laptops being delivered to schools that had no electricity – indeed, often they did not have proper classrooms at all.

Then consider the National Youth Programme, which was to provide technical skills to those who could not proceed to institutions of higher learning. This, again, was a government programme of no relevance to the children of the elite, but a golden opportunity for the poor. And, yet again, it was mercilessly looted by the so-called cartels, often with large sums being paid where no goods or services had been delivered.

And here we are now, faced with what has been widely defined as a once-in-a-generation public health crisis – the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In health, as in education, the rich can often provide for themselves while the poor are entirely at the mercy of the services provided by the government. So far, our government has been keen to showcase the creation of isolation facilities, and the disinfection of streets and buildings.

But it would be nice if just this once – and in light of the magnitude of this crisis – the money intended for the purchase of such emergency equipment was not stolen, but rather used to save lives.

But this new coronavirus (SARS-2 which causes the disease Covid -19) is only just getting started. What the government has prepared for is actually the easier (and far cheaper) part of the emergency response. Restrictions on movement and isolation wards are intended to delay and to reduce the spread of the infection. This does make a huge difference but is not enough on its own.

What are we to expect then?

To quote from an analysis in the Associated Press, “For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and those with mild illness recover in about two weeks. But severe illness including pneumonia can occur, especially in the elderly and people with existing health problems...”

So public health policy in this pandemic should properly focus not just on delaying (and potentially stopping) the spread of the infection. It should equally focus on preparing to treat those who if they get the infection will end up being severely ill.

With the coronavirus, this severe illness generally manifests itself as ‘Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome’ (SARS) which is basically a collapse of the lungs, and the entire breathing mechanism. The only way to keep alive, a person so afflicted, is with a ventilator – that bedside machine that effectively breathes for the patient, which you must have seen in TV medical dramas.

So here is the question: What plans are there for ensuring that there will be a rapid scaling up of the total number of ventilators available in public hospitals, all over the country?

For in the absence of ventilators and related equipment, the coronavirus can be a death sentence for elderly Kenyans as well as those with certain “pre-existing conditions” – of which we have very many.

It is at precisely such occasions of great public crisis that the Kenyan cartels usually make their biggest profits, through the supply of wildly overpriced equipment – if not outright theft.

But it would be nice if just this once – and in light of the magnitude of this crisis – the money intended for the purchase of such emergency equipment was not stolen, but rather used to save lives.