Promises for schools reopening won't be timely or enough to protect innocent ones

Gird yourself to pay for all the caring government promised as schools reopen on January 4

In Summary

• Government won't burden parents. It has set aside Sh2.1 billion for face masks, soap and sanitiser when schools reopen.  Says it will spend Sh28.8 billion to build additional classrooms repair others.

• How to reconcile insistence on borrowing to fund a referendum when it can’t fund protection of health workers - and now children from Covid-19 ravages.

Education CS George Magoha speaks to Ggrade 4 pupil Cate Atieno at Olympic Primary School, Kibra, on October 12.
SCHOOL BELLS: Education CS George Magoha speaks to Ggrade 4 pupil Cate Atieno at Olympic Primary School, Kibra, on October 12.

Give it to government. For once, it is listening and not lording it over our objections. Tired of being pilloried for lack of investment in Civid-19 protocols, the 'government' overruled hypertensive Education CS George Magoha's insistence to reopen schools in October.

Instead, it decreed January 4, 2021, as the date when all children will resume schooling, with their health — especially protection against coronavirus — assured.

You know how caring our government is. It keeps all the promises it makes, especially to our children. Aren’t our Class 7 pupils — who were in Class 1 when Jubilee came to power — today tech-savvy after acquiring laptops in 2013?

On when to reopen, the government had done painstaking studies and determined  there were minor unresolved issues related to Covid-19 protocols, which needed to be fixed before reopening.

It, therefore, needed a lead-time of three months to instal running water, build extra classrooms, dormitories and washrooms, and buy sanitiser, masks and desks.

Many doubted the government they have come to ignore when it makes promises. Scepticism was strengthened when after making the promise, government asked MPs to use their NG-CDF money to re-engineer school infrastructure.

MPs responded, saying the government knew the financial outlay far outstrips the Sh100 million annual NG-CDF allocation, which is also released in drips.

Further, the government subcontracted the assembling of desks to ghost trainees, with disastrous results. In any case, only select needy schools would receive token desks as if coronavirus discriminates between schools.

Such things like doubting aren’t ingrained in a people who trust too much. However, just before the new date was announced, the same government had made an about-turn, reneging on a promise to supply masks and sanitiser to all schools and ambushing parents to foot the bill.

But that was then. Now, the government wasn’t playing truant with responsibility. What the media call an elaborate plan is in place to mitigate Civid-19. Or is it?

In its record, the government will not burden parents this time round. It has set aside Sh2.1 billion to supply face masks, soap and sanitiser for learners when schools reopen. 

It has also committed to spend Sh28.8 billion to construct additional classrooms and repair existing ones to expand learning space. Another Sh10 billion will be used to hire additional primary and secondary school teachers.

In support of free education, schools will get Sh152.1 billion capitation. The government didn’t forget to add a sweetener for our children: Sh5.6 billion will cover an expanded school-feeding programme. It’s a ring-fenced Sh198.6 billion rescue plan.

So, should parents worry?

They actually have a lot to worry about. As they say, the devil is in the details and the details are found in the Sh929.5 billion National Treasury and Planning Post-Covid-19 Economic Recovery Strategy (2020-22). Here is the reality.

Weeks to the reopening, schools haven’t received any of the Sh2.1 billion  supply of facemasks, soap and sanitiser. As conmen would hi-five over a successful con game, government could’ve had parents again, unless a massive airlift is planned to get PPE supplies to schools before January 4.

Which makes me wonder, why are we procrastinating on release of PPEs from the disgraced Kemsa when there’s dire need in the country?

The Kenya Medical Supplies Authority is holding PPE worth more than Sh5 billion, down from Sh7 billion. They are not like land whose value appreciates with time. Kemsa could make do with this loss rather than incur an even heavy one soon.

In which case, why does it appear the intent is to shop elsewhere rather than give Kemsa the Sh2.1 billion for the schools’ supplies? Why isn’t there action on this, a bit more than two weeks to the reopening?

One could be delay in procurement because someone is negotiating a fat kickback. Two, the government was counting coins it doesn’t have, given the recent forced admission the country is financially distressed, the result of an insatiable appetite for expensive loans.

Don’t nudge me on whether supplies for the more expensive new classrooms, hiring of teachers and food supply will be met when there isn’t movement to supply PPEs.

I’ve long learnt that when the government doesn’t intend to deliver on anything, it phases the implementation period. But I can’t reconcile insistence on borrowing to fund a referendum when it can’t fund protection of health workers, and now children from Covid-19 ravages.

In case of the PPEs, the intent in the cleverly titled 'Post-Covid-19 Economic Recovery Strategy, is to supply 'when' schools re-open. There is, therefore, no provision for supplies 'before' schools open. In the case of the heavy budget items, supply will be effected “in the next two years”, by which time the pandemic would’ve had its fill.

But can we really fault the government when we misread its clearly outlined “post-Covid-19” strategy for a current pandemic mitigation? Why would you have a “post-Covid-19” strategy whose intent is mitigating against the pandemic now? Can we plead that maybe, just maybe, the Treasury mandarins who wrote the strategy got the title wrong?

We can muse and shudder all we want but the reality is that schools will open on January 4. Gird yourself to pay for all the government promised. Unfortunately, it’ll not be in time or be in enough quantities to protect the innocent ones from the virus.

Children will go into the same dilapidated schools with inadequate water, sanitation, classrooms and teachers.

But cheer up now for it's the Christmas season, when you give and expect no payback. After all, they’re our children, not the government’s. Just know this; like its progenitor the Pharisees, it’s government’s prerogative to spread false cheer. For didn’t Jesus decry of the Pharisees,  "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!”

Re-read Gospels of Luke 11:37–54 and Matthew 23:1–39 as compensation for being lied to.

Kabatesi is a communications consultant and comments on politics and current affairs