MUGWANG'A: LPG blast exposes corruption in our institutions

We cannot afford to wait for another disaster to strike or for another innocent life to be lost before we take action.

In Summary
  • We must empower and support civil society organisations, journalists and whistle-blowers who play a crucial role in exposing corruption. a
  • Their efforts must be met with unwavering protection and encouragement, rather than suppression and intimidation.
An emergency responder from the Kenya Red Cross at the scene of the explosion in Embakasi on February 2, 2024.
TRAGEDY: An emergency responder from the Kenya Red Cross at the scene of the explosion in Embakasi on February 2, 2024.

On Thursday, February 1, just when many Nairobians were celebrating the end of a very long January, a tragedy occurred. A fire broke out in Nairobi’s Embakasi estate and by the time its flames were extinguished, seven people were dead. The fire broke out when a lorry carrying gas cylinders exploded at Mradi Area at around 11.30pm. The lorry was leaving a Liquified Petroleum Gas filling factory in the same area.

The country was later to be told the factory was illegal. It had not been licensed to operate for a year.

Just hours after the tragedy that also left about 300 people injured in hospitals, the blame and denial game began.

The first to deny responsibility was the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, the agency Kenyans trust with regulating where and when such a facility is set but one many know for raising prices of fuel every mid-month.

In a statement on February 2, the authority said it had received three applications to build a liquefied petroleum gas storage at the site but declined all on grounds that they did not meet stipulated safety distances in the area. The authority claimed the main reason was failure of the designs to meet the safety distances as stipulated. It said the applicant was requested to submit a Qualitative Risk Assessment clearly indicating the radiation blast profiles in the unfortunate case of an explosion but the same was not provided.

But the factory was still set up and operated.

The Nairobi county government whose officers are known to hunt and chase mama mboga in every nook and cranny for failing to bribe them could not tell whether a big gas refilling factory a couple of metres from their Embakasi offices had not been licensed for more than a year!

The National Environment Management Authority which smells loud music and arrests thousands of owners of licensed entertainment joints every night did not hear any sound from the factory for that long!

Our ever hawk-eyed police officers who collect hundreds of shillings from each of the thousands of licensed alcohol outlets in the city every day just missed out on an unlicensed gas refilling plant right outside the Embakasi police division headquarters!

Our tax collector, Kenya Revenue Authority, did not notice a multi-million shilling gas investor was not paying any taxes for a year, even the newly employed thousands of tax marshals were ‘blind’ to the untaxed money-minting.

We are a country of jokers and these jokes will be our undoing. The corruption in our official government system is what will kill us as a nation. It is official corruption that killed the seven innocent compatriots that perished in the February, 1 fire. It is corruption that has the 300 other victims looking at hospitals’ ceilings all day for the past one week, in pain unimaginable.

And our reactionary government is not helping!

At the heart of the country lies a stark reality that demands urgent attention: a cycle of corruption and exploitation thriving amidst disasters and daily struggles. From illegal gas stations operating unchecked to Government officials demanding protection fees, the very fabric of governance is tainted by a reactionary nature that impedes progress and perpetuates injustice.

At the forefront of this dire situation are the illegal gas stations scattered across the country. These ticking time bombs pose a grave threat to public safety, yet they continue to operate with impunity. The Government's lax enforcement and complicity in turning a blind eye allow these establishments to thrive endangers the lives of countless citizens. The recent tragedies, such as the devastating gas explosions that claimed innocent lives, serve as painful reminders of the urgent need for action.

Moreover, the pervasive culture of corruption extends its tendrils into every sector of society. From small business owners to multinational corporations, the burden of bribery and extortion weighs heavy on the shoulders of hardworking Kenyans. Bar owners, despite having all the necessary permits and licences, are forced to pay daily protection fees to unscrupulous police, county and other authorities under the threat of harassment or closure. This exploitation not only drains their resources but also erodes trust in Government's ability to uphold the rule of law.

The repercussions of this systemic corruption ripple far and wide, exacerbating the socio-economic disparities that plague our nation. Resources that should be allocated towards essential services and infrastructure are syphoned off by corrupt officials, leaving communities underserved and vulnerable. The funds meant for disaster preparedness and response are diverted into the pockets of the few, leaving the masses at the mercy of fate when calamity strikes.

It is imperative that we break free from this vicious cycle of corruption and exploitation. The time for half-hearted reforms and empty promises is long past; what Kenya needs now is bold and decisive action.

Firstly, the government must prioritise the enforcement of regulations and crack down on illegal activities, starting with the immediate closure of unlicensed gas stations. Additionally, stringent measures must be put in place to hold corrupt officials accountable for their actions, including thorough investigations and severe penalties.

Transparency and accountability should be the cornerstones of our governance system, with mechanisms in place to ensure that public servants serve the interests of the people rather than their own. This includes the establishment of independent oversight bodies tasked with monitoring and combating corruption at all levels of government.

Furthermore, we must empower and support civil society organisations, journalists, and whistle-blowers who play a crucial role in exposing corruption and holding the powerful to account. Their efforts must be met with unwavering protection and encouragement, rather than suppression and intimidation.

Ultimately, the fight against corruption and exploitation requires a collective effort from all sectors of society. It is incumbent upon every citizen to demand accountability, transparency, and ethical leadership from our elected officials. Together, we can build a future where the rule of law prevails, where justice is blind, and where the rights and dignity of every Kenyan are respected and upheld.

The urgency of reform cannot be overstated. We cannot afford to wait for another disaster to strike or for another innocent life to be lost before we take action. The time to break free from the shackles of corruption and exploitation is now. Let us rise to the challenge and forge a brighter, more just future for generations to come.

The writer is a political commentator 

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