Kenya

Sins of graft come back to haunt us

Sins of graft come back to haunt us
  • It is obvious that, for the government to enforce lockdown, it must offer this large populace an alternative source of livelihood.
  • This could be either through food rations and essential commodities, akin to what Rwanda is doing for its citizens, or cash stipends to finance their daily needs. But Kenya is broke! Kenya neither has the money to sustain such a massive social programme nor enough food in the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) to feed a populace under lockdown.

I have been unable to get a haircut and beard shave in the past week. My barber has been at home since the President announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew from March 27. As a result, some establishments, such as restaurants, as well as bars and other entertainment spots, were closed. The food joints were only allowed to offer takeaway services and home delivery. Public service vehicles were required to reduce their carrying capacity by a third. Barber shops and salons, too, were closed. The drastic action was taken in an effort to restrict contact and increase social distancing, eventually reducing the spread of Covid-19.I have since had a few telephone conversations with my barber, and not about my grooming. That’s the least of my concerns during the mini lockdown. I wanted to understand how he’s surviving. Sadly, his story amplifies the challenges among the larger populace. Like the vast majority of Kenyans, he lives from hand to mouth. He doesn’t have any other source of income. He has very little savings, which, he fears, can hardly sustain him during this period. He can neither plan nor forecast since it is not clear when the shutdown will end.There has been much debate regarding which decision is most ideal to effectively deal with the coronavirus. Whereas for wealthy nations this has been a fairly easy decision to take, the same cannot be said about the developing ones. However, most people agree that a lockdown seems to be the most effective. China locked down Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province and where the first case of Covid-19 virus was detected, for two months. Many countries have followed suit or locked down part of the country. They include the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, India, Rwanda and Uganda. So, why isn’t Kenya following suit?According to a World Bank report, “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2018”, Kenya has the sixth-highest number of poor people in the world. The report says about 17.6 million Kenyans live below two dollars a day. I suspect this number has since grown significantly. Kenya is predominantly an informal economy and the masses lie at the bottom of the pyramid. These are hardworking Kenyans who wake up daily to go to work as hawkers, shoe shiners, mama mboga, ice-cream vendors and barbers, among many other jobs. Most of them live on daily wages and hardly have any savings to push them beyond another sunset. They simply must wake up and go to work lest their children sleep hungry.It is, therefore, obvious that, for the government to enforce lockdown, it must offer this large populace an alternative source of livelihood. This could be either through food rations and essential commodities, akin to what Rwanda is doing for its citizens, or cash stipends to finance their daily needs. But Kenya is broke! Kenya neither has the money to sustain such a massive social programme nor enough food in the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGR) to feed a populace under lockdown.The cost of corruption has come back to haunt us. The government now finds itself in a classical Catch-22 situation, where it has to partially lock down the country and pray that the virus does not spread extensively, while still allowing citizens to go to work and earn some daily wages. Just like the prayer of the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Kenya needs God to rescue its people.If only our leaders fought corruption genuinely, perhaps the yearly savings of a third of the Sh3 trillion national Budget would have been spent on cushioning the citizens. If only our leaders set aside their selfish interests and helped our maize farmers in the food basket regions of Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia to earn a decent income from their produce, perhaps we would have millions of bags in the SGR to give to our citizens as rations and have them stay at home comfortably.If only that Sh21 billion did not disappear in the Kimwarer and Arror dam scandal, perhaps it would have been used to cushion the citizens. If only our political leaders cut down on “benchmarking” junkets across the globe and huge allowances, perhaps we would have had some savings in the public coffers to offer the citizens a cushion. If only the leadership could use its instruments of power to recall the billions of shillings fraudulently obtained by corrupt individuals, perhaps these funds would have come in handy during these difficult times of the coronavirus.If only…. If only…. If only.Mr Orapa is a certified public accountant.