Thursday, November 03, 2016

An absurd complaint

Being an insider is intoxicating. You are privy to secrets no one else is privy to. You get to know stuff before others do. You get to know things others will never know. It gives one a warm feeling when they are superior in one respect or another. You have code words and special language. You're part of a clique that is recognised and protected by its special character. Sometimes, you get to wear special, identifying things, like wrist-bands.

Everyone wants to feel special. It doesn't matter how accomplished one is, if one doesn't derive special attention from ones accomplishments, few are likely to be happy with that state of affairs. It doesn't matter whether one is in an official position or a private one, one mostly wants to be recognised as special, both within and outside ones organisation.

Joe Mucheru, the Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communications and Technology, must feel really special. He was written to the Media Council of Kenya arguing, among other things, that the Nation Media Group, through its Business Daily newspaper, has defamed the Government of Kenya by reporting on the interim audit report of the Ministry of Health and by characterising some of the ministry's officials as corrupt and thieves. Mr Mucheru, in the name of the Government, wants an apology. What a stupid idea!

It is not unreasonable to suggest that some Ministry of Health officials are corrupt or thieves. If any of them thinks that they have been unfairly characterised by a newspaper, they can demand satisfaction from the Media Council or from the courts. It is not the business of the Cabinet Secretary for ICT to carry water for government officials who think they have been defamed or have had libelous or slanderous statements made about them.

No less than the Auditor-General reports that on average, one-third of the appropriations made to the government are "lost". His last estimate of "lost" national treasure came to about three-hundred billion shillings. It is possible that out of that three hundred billion, five billion "disappeared" from the Ministry of Health and that the Ministry's Principal Secretary had a hand in the "disappearance" as the ministry's accounting officer. If the PS believes that his internal auditor, whoever leaked the interim audit report, the Auditor-General or the Business Daily have defamed him, he should retain the services of a white-shoe lawyer and sue all the parties concerned.

If the Business Daily has deliberately slanted or skewed its stories to paint the government as corrupt and full of thieves, the government can only blame itself; it doesn't amount to "outright defamation and character assassination" when the president himself admits that his anti-corruption officials have failed him in the war in graft, as he did during the Governance and Accountability Summit held at State House and televised by, among others, Nation Media's NTV. (We call it estoppel; once you admit something and it is used against you, you can't bitch about it.)

I bet that when Mr Mucheru was penning his three-page diatribe to the Media Council it never occurred to him to write to the Attorney-General and ask for his legal advice; after all, the A-G is the principal legal advisor of the Government, including ambitious insiders like Mr Mucheru. The A-G would have reminded him that governments never complain about their portrayals in the media; if they are good, they will be defended. If they are incompetent, their incompetence will be plain for all to see.

Mr Mucheru is now an insider and pretty soon he will be an insider par excellence. He is engaged in a war that he cannot win. It is possible that the milquetoast Media Council will go along with his asinine complaint but if he is foolish enough to pursue his complaint through the courts of law, he will have bitten off more than he can chew. Official corruption and thievery is a presidentially admitted fact. Will he ask the head of his government to apologise too? Absurd, right? So is his complaint.

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