Friday, January 20, 2023

New nawab same as old nawab

The new-ish Government has announced that it it is going to build in 6 months an “ultramodern stadium” in Embu where the national celebrations for Madaraka Day shall be held. In order to make sure that the project is a success, it has placed the Principal Secretary in the Interior ministry in charge. The Ministry in charge of internal security - policing and intelligence - rather than the Sports ministry or even the Culture ministry is responsible for building a stadium. The more things change…

Kenya’s officialdom has learnt no lessons form the insertion of policemen, soldiers and intelligence officers in overtly civilian spaces. The secrecy that attends national defence and national security questions is now part and parcel of a vast swathe of purely civilian matters, contrary to the tenets of Article 10 and Article 232 of the Constitution regarding transparency and accountability. Indeed, not even a passing acquaintance with “the participation of the people” can be claimed when it comes to decisions made by members of the disciplined services; theirs is to do or die, not to wonder why.

Presidents Kenyatta the Elder, Moi, Kibaki and Kenyatta the Younger relied on their authority as commanders-in-chief to issue decrees that would and could not be countermanded or undermined by the members of the securocracy that they commanded. Their orders were almost always carried out without question. As a result, Kenyans were frequently harmed, injured, lied to, robbed and cheated in the guise of “national development”. Even in cases where such projects “succeeded”, it almost always emerged that we had overpaid for white elephants that had limited national or even local utility and whose costs lingered long after the projects had inevitably collapsed. Repeating the mistakes of past presidencies now seems to be a feature of the modern Kenyan presidency, not a bug.

Back in the day, the Public Works Department built things. It procured the supplies, deployed its engineers, and built things. It eventually succumbed to the sclerosis of corruption and Kenya established a new-ish procurement legislative framework, that now consists of the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act, the Public Private Partnerships Act, and the Public Finance Management Act. Boring shit, really. But you need to learn about this boring shit, especially about key phrases like “request for proposals”, “award of tender”, “procuring entity”, “financial close” and similar connected phrases that constitute the procurement of an “ultramodern stadium”. Even if you are not starting with a clean slate, merely prequalifying suppliers for the refurbishment and upgrading of the Embu stadium is not something that can be accomplished in 5 months, unless corners are cut, procedures are elided, mistakes are made, and scarce public funds go walkabout.

Had they said they were taking steps to spruce up the existing facility so that, for one day in 2023 it would be the centre of national attention, they could just justify an outlay that would run into the hundreds of millions of shillings. But, promising the impossible, and finding dodgy ways to justify things like “single-source procurement” and “emergency procurement”, only serves to entrench in the minds of those who had given the Government the benefit of the doubt, that the new nawabs were the same as the old nawabs and that it is Kenyans who shall end up the poorer for it.

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