Cabinet Secretaries should not be government sanitisers

Kagwe’s inter-agency committee targets a clean-up meant to forestall criminal investigations of MES

In Summary

• Two stories appeared in media’s middle pages, but carried weighty matters. Both were about high-level corruption.

•  What the stories revealed was how government covers up and then sanitises maleficence within its ranks. 

State House Nairobi. /FILE
State House Nairobi. /FILE

At the close of last year, two stories appeared in media’s middle pages, but carried weighty matters.

Coincidentally, both were about high-level corruption. What the stories revealed was how government covers up and then sanitises maleficence within its ranks. In one, the conspiracy has received official seal, with a no case to answer verdict. In the other, the clean-up process has just begun.

You must know something about roads. They’re constructed, carry vehicles and human traffic. Government says they’re enablers of trade and access to services such as health. Roads simplify and signify human interaction. Roads are built and maintained so that the taxpayer can use them. Roads money is a levy every motorist pays to have good roads.

But the subject at the Kenya Roads Board in December wasn’t about construction of new roads. The topic in that grey boardroom was about roads maintenance update in the 2019-20 period. As it’s usual, the very act of a self-assessment report made by public institutions amounts to an early acquittal of suspects, coincidentally sitting across each other.

So it was that the Roads board was “making a report” on its charges — the Kenya Rural Roads Authority, Kenya Urban Roads Authority and the Kenya National Highways Authority.

KeRRA budgeted for Sh12.4 billion to maintain 28,837km of roads but only did 8,063km or 28 per cent. After budgeting to do 1,796km Kura “fared better” doing 1,170km or 65 per cent. KeNHA used 81 per cent of Sh23.6 billion budget to maintain 13,344km out of budget target of 16,580km.

Questions arise. Was the Roads board satisfied with the quality of work and what happened to the balance in the budgets? The answer could be that whole budgets were “spent” on less works than intended. Why? According to the KRB, KeRRA funds are spend in “collaboration” with MPs. Yet KeRRA works in a cartel-like fashion that is hostage to MPs crony networks.

KeRRA and MPs networks decide which roads to maintain, by which contractor and for how much. That means agreements are struck on how not to maintain roads sufficiently to save enough for kickbacks. Therefore, KeRRA can’t meet its budgeted quota, and also spends more on shoddy work. In that dim room, KRB was skimping over inflated costs, shoddy work, exaggerated distances or no work done for payments made.

Our roads are in bad shape all the time because of the sludge in road agencies’ operations. More money is paid for extremely poor work or none at all. Indeed, the better the road the more money it’s allocated therefore the fatter the kickbacks. Conscience prompted me to nudge the President’s indulgence in November (https://www.the-star.co.ke/siasa/2020-11-14-uhuru-should-refocus-on-anti-graft-as-his-legacy/) pleading that the roads sector was a scandal encumbered by cartels that needed his attention.

I hoped “his fresh anti-corruption rudder” would point “at the dirt underpinning dealings at KeNHA, KeRRA and Kura.” I recoiled at the “little attention paid to maleficence in the cartel-infested roads construction subsector.” Though KRB blames MPs for mischief, officers are partners in criminal enterprises in these authorities.

It works this way: Station A boss gives Station B counterpart a tender, who in turn awards Station C chief and the latter compensates the Station A boss. You can’t beat their craftiness. For that reason, I pointed out to the President that the nexus was in “it isn’t also for nothing that devolution of roads and restructuring of Kura and KeRRA was violently resisted.”

While attending the burial of Mama Hannah Mudavadi, mother to ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi, the President came face-to-face with this reality. He was told that a 18km road that snakes to the famous Mululu address has been on-off KeRRA books for years. The President was forced to order it be tarmacked starting March.

I’m hoping that now the gene is out of the bottle. The KRB report can become the basis of investigations to smoke out corruption and also rethink on restructuring-cum-abolishing some road agencies.

The other story was that Heath Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe had appointed an inter-agency committee to evaluate – not to investigate – the implementation of the scandalous Managed Equipment Service. We’ve been on the MES heist forever but government is bent on concealment.

The Kagwe team will “consider ways of improving on operations” and ensure “the successful implementation of the (MES) project”.

So, government isn’t about to let MES go even when faced by Senate’s gory 395-page damnation of MES a month ago that asked EACC to investigate. Deciphered, Kagwe’s targets a clean-up meant to forestall criminal investigations of MES. Why? Some shadowy fellows behind MES are mooting an early extension of MES before the seven-year contract lapses in 2022.

The MES is a seedy government ‘leased’ medical equipment project initially at an annual cost of Sh38 billion that grew to Sh43.2 billion but now has unwieldly risen to Sh68 billion. The MES was dumped on counties in 2015. Because of the controversy in procurement, escalating costs and increasing lack of utility value, one would expect government to feel sufficiently guilty, and order an inquiry and not a committee of bureaucrats emersed in tricks of cleansing corruption. But that’s government for you; the committee will certainly sweep dirt under the carpet.

For a man who entered “Mafya House” with a springily gait, a year has gone by with Kagwe proving all mouth and no action. In early days on the job, he reminded us the ministry was a citadel of the corrupt. But apart from an altercation with some mid-level research staff, the score card on anti-corruption crusade by the minister is zero. Under his watch were created the Covid-19 billionaires.

His exhortations now are echoes in the wilderness. He’s careful not to talk corruption anymore. When he left the Covid-19 devastation announcements podium to his juniors, assumption was attending to the excruciating existential emergency; the lack of PPEs, insurance cover and hard coronavirus tools that have provoked unprecedented strikes by health workers.

And indeed, he was; for, just before Christmas, he announced vacancies for all sorts of health workers having determined that those on strike were malingering. He was bullish warning; “go back to (your) work stations across the country and avoid being a statistic of the people who will be looking for jobs come January”. It’s January and we face a second Covid-19 wave with a deficit of doctors.

Same January he glumly signed a back-to-work agreement with the same health workers he has threatened to turn onto a statistic. But the agreement proved to be a con; counties with majority health workers weren’t part of the deal. How this skipped minds of the parties to the agreement signifies just how shrewd government blindfolds can be.

The draconian, heartless and scheming predisposition seems to be the real Mutahi not the ordinary-Joe Kagwe he puts on while on stage. Late last year closed the hapless chapter on a would-be corruption slayer turned cleaner. His unveiling a committee to wrap up any loose ends in the MES project is insidious. If the MES contract were to be renewed skewed as it is; then we’ve to make do with the Mutahi in the New Year.