AJUOK: Bottom-up, trickle down or status quo, greed is the enemy

There is no precedent to suggest anyone will go to jail for corruption soon, but at least we should vote for those who show that they care

In Summary

• Greed in high office is this country’s biggest enemy.

• It has become our national slave master and we have to seek our freedom now!

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga
Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga
Image: FILE

There should have been a way to compel every Kenyan to watch the two media interviews given by Chief of Defence Forces Gen Robert Kibochi last week.

We are, however, gratefully not in an authoritarian state, especially because in recent times, many people have complained about the increasing role played by the military in civilian affairs.

But the General ended up saying something really striking.

In giving examples of the advantages that deploying the military in civilian development bring, he gave the example of the refurbishment of the Kenyan ship MV Uhuru, where contractors had asked for Sh1.5 billion, while the military ended up spending just Sh50 million.

If you are shocked that one procurement tender can save Sh1.45 billion or cost just three per cent of what civilians quoted, wait until you hear the General narrate the case of the Kenya Meat Commission.

There, they spent just Sh680 million to restore the plant and return it to profitability.

Gen Kibochi further revealed that the plant now supplies meat products to all security agencies, and pays its pastoralist suppliers.

You can be sure that all these, under a civilian procurement process, would have swallowed more billions, and like Arror and Kimwarer dams, probably delivered air.

One final example can be picked from an interview that a local media house had with the then Maj Gen Mohamed Badi of Nairobi Metropolitan Services sometime last year.

Badi narrated a near-similar anecdote, where he had gone to the city county’s vehicle yard to check out construction equipment and maintenance graders.

He was surprised that for minor problems, the machines would be parked and a fresh tender issued for a new purchase of whole equipment, rather than repairing.

He spent Sh8 million or thereabouts to get most of them running, where City Hall procurement networks had been angling for hundreds of millions in replacements, which sometimes were never done.

I am not here to justify the military’s involvement in civilian development and procurement, even though my personal view is that the President should send them everywhere, including to the Football Kenya Federation to get rid of the mediocrity there.

I only want to state that the so-called economic models being peddled by politicians all over the place make no sense if they don’t address such insane corruption like the price of repairing a ship being inflated by a factor of fifty!

Interestingly, one such model, the bottom-up, whose promoters have fumbled all week to define the head and tail from it, already have the man seen as their economics guru, constantly reminding all and sundry online that fighting corruption is not in their plans if they take power.

Immediately after the budget speech this year, I ran into two eye-opening commentaries, one by celebrated Saudi-based Kenyan banker Mohamed Wehliye, titled “We Have An Expenditure Problem, Not A Revenue Problem”.

The other was a TV clip from a local station capturing a trio of pundits breaking down the lows and highs of the budget.

One pundit was clear that in a labour-intensive economy like ours, initiating huge capital intensive infrastructural projects, then allocating them to Chinese contractors, is hardly the way to put money in the pockets of Kenyans.

Simply put, the growth of what I would call the Chinese Industrial Complex in Kenya’s big-projects sector has taken away the ability of the local industry to thrive in difficult circumstances and to stop the repatriation of proceeds from these projects to China.

I can’t remember the last time I saw construction companies with local names such as Kirinyaga, Nyoro or Gogni Rajope on our roads.

And like the pundits from the TV clip, I have to wonder how we intend to raise the living standards of the people if we repatriate all the funds for big projects to foreign lands.

In one of the mainstream dailies, a columnist recently estimated that we have paid Chinese contractors about Sh4 trillion in big infrastructure projects since Jubilee came to power in 2013. You have to be speechless at that.

The problem with politicians and their ambitions is that they imagine that economic manifestoes have to be clever-sounding write-ups packaged in philosophical garb and jet-setting ivory tower deliverables.

In dropping fancy names such as bottom-up or trickle-down, their intention is to mesmerize the voter into thinking there is something really big being planned by some clever people in air-conditioned rooms in Nairobi.

Often, the Nairobi teams are just as ignorant as the grassroots over the phrases being thrown around by their presidential aspirants.

There is no better evidence than Kandara MP Alice Wahome’s embarrassing moment on TV when bottom-up sounded like some strange sounds made by a waddle of penguins.

The foregoing shows us corruption and skewed procurement processes account for a huge percentage of the wastage in government spending.

You could expand this to include all the collapsed industries like in the sugar sector.

In fact, I am sure many Kenyans would pick the resurrection of one sugar factory over some multi-lane superhighway contracted to the Chinese, headed to nowhere in particular.

Many more Kenyans would settle for economic promises that revolve around simply sealing the corruption holes that enrich only a few, rather than the lofty sloganeering related to utopian models.

Presidential candidates have to be made aware that stopping corruption will save us a lot more than their models going up or bottom. Only ODM boss Raila Odinga has stated categorically that he will fight graft and jail corruption lords.

For that, he was condemned in some quarters as scaring away support, ostensibly because corruption is an accepted part of our daily lives and anyone who seeks to halt the gravy train risks losing political support.

The truth is, the bottom can go up and the trickle can come down, but with corruption still ruling government, there will be no magic wand to be waved that will deliver us to economic Canaan.

This is why I submit the Kenyan voter must demand that aspirants for high office keep it simple.

The only thing we need to hear from them is how they will address the expenditure problem, and how they will seal the corruption gaps of today.

We may have had the dream of catching up with the Asian Tigers at a more optimistic point in our national life, but we are now wise enough to know that our problems require rather simple solutions.

Greed in high office is this country’s biggest enemy. Stopping that greed should therefore be our national mission.

There is no precedent to suggest anyone will go to jail for corruption soon, but at least we should vote for those who show that they care.

Whichever economic model appeals to you, my message is that you shouldn’t fall for any that does not come with a rider that will fight corruption. Because greed has become our national slave master and we have to seek our freedom now!