Wednesday, June 19, 2013

As transparent as mud, as accountable as a mafia hitman.

Some of them are "on Twitter", Cabinet Secretaries that is. Indeed, the Foreign Affairs one likes to sign off at night with a "Good night tweeps." How Interior and Co-ordination of National Government counterpart is not, though. he, it seems, represents the traditional position of the Executive: you say as little as possible in as few media as you can get away with. We mention the Tweeting because it is symptomatic of the faux reforms of the Uhuru Kenyatta administration.

L'Affaire Chinedu is getting news media attention, yet the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the one for the Interior have nothing to say beyond "something is being done." Some weeks ago the President ordered the expulsion of all drug barons in Kenya. Some media houses are reporting that Mr Chinedu is one of those targeted for expulsion and that many more are on their way out. What begs the question is if the State, and by 'State' we mean the Executive, knew who these foreign drug barons were, and they had sufficient proof to justify their expulsion from Kenya, why are they not being prosecuted, convicted, sentenced, and after serving their sentences, expelled? Has this in any way something to do with the report the late Prof George Saitoti was preparing on drug dealers before his mysterious death in a helicopter crash? If so, what were the details in his report? Who has the report today and what are they doing with it?

L'Affaire Chinedu demonstrates that the talk of making the Executive more transparent is just that: talk. Without transparency, there will be no accountability. And without accountability we might as well go back to the pre-referendum days when the President was the center of the Kenyan political universe and the voters were bit-players in the stories of their lives.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto made many promises while on the campaign trail. Many of the promises were taken with a pinch of salt; after all, if we believed everything that politicians promised, we would be in a more fragile emotional state than we are today as a nation. But that they put their promises down on paper in the form of the Jubilee manifesto was foolhardy; we now have a document to compare against their achievements for the next five years or so. While Kenyans are necessarily excited about the one-laptop per standard one pupil promise, it is the promises of transparency and accountability that deserve greater attention.

Kenyans have traditionally given the Executive a wide berth when it came to promises it has made or programmes it is pursuing. And rightly so. Daniel Toroitich arap Moi was famous for "road-side" announcements. Mwai Kibaki was famous for maintaining a Sphinx-like silence over all his decisions. Uhuru Kenyatta promised openness and accountability. The behaviour of his Cabinet Secretaries would seem to suggest that a hybrid of the Moi and Kibaki styles is in play (the President announces at a rally that drug barons will be deported; one is deported; he takes Kenya government officials hostage; the two Cabinet Secretaries concerned keep a studious silence bar mumbles of "something being done.")

And it is not just on the drug barons that the Executive is behaving oddly. the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary, in his supplementary appropriations request to Parliament, wishes to spend sh 700 million on an office for the immediate former President. While an Act of Parliament orders that the former President, in addition to the millions he will trouser, be given an office with a staff, it is silent on whether this will require the construction of an entire office block. Seven hundred million shillings would buy three acres of prime real estate in Nairobi, according to the Budget Committee of the National Assembly. How the Cabinet Secretary and his staff arrived at this figure, and why, remains a mystery. He, following the form established by his appointing authority, isn't saying anything over the matter.

And it goes on and on throughout the national and county executives, this secrecy. It is as if we never decimated the KANU hegemony or got rid of the KANU constitution (for it was a KANU constitution in all but name.) In Machakos, for example, the governor intends to give "investors" free land if they invest in Machakos county. Where this land will be found remains a mystery seeing that thousands of Machakos county residents have been fighting for land rights for over three decades. This is neither transparency nor accountability. Nor is the publishing of the budget estimates without a corresponding document on the rationales behind them. It seems that what we have today, new constitutional dispensation or not, is a familiar system with a new face. It is as if nothing has changed, though the colours are different.

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