Get to grips with bleak reality

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang'o

Former National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani. Inset is Controller of Budget Margaret Nyakang'o. 

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

In times of trouble, this country rarely lacks drama, most of it adroitly manufactured by politicians with the specific aim of deflecting the attention of their gullible subjects.

This past week, we have been made to believe that the real reason why the government has been unable to fulfil most of the promises it made during the electioneering period is that a huge amount of money to the tune of Sh15 billion was withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund by high-level thieves in the Jubilee administration, airlifted in helicopters, and subsequently distributed to a favoured few.

 We are talking here of Sh15 billion (Sh15,000,000,000 in crisp banknotes). If an individual was to have this amount of money in his bank account, he could comfortably spend Sh45 million every day of the year and be left with hefty loose change.

Since this kind of loot could never fit in a chopper, it would probably have to be ferried in a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III or such craft, which would be difficult to hide. Anyway, shorn of hyperbole, it is unlikely that such an amount of money was stolen and disappeared into some kind of mysterious vault. Such James Bond-like fantasy stuff is hard to swallow.

Malicious libel

What is not in doubt is that the money was withdrawn and presumably disbursed, but that is where discrepancies in the narrative start. For whatever reason, the Controller of Budget has chosen to tell Parliament that she was coerced to make the authorisation by the former Cabinet Secretary in charge of the Treasury, Mr Ukur Yatani, at the behest of his boss, the former President.

 For his part, Mr Yattani came out breathing fire, saying everything that happened was within the law, and even threatening to sue CoB Margaret Nyakang’o for malicious libel. And the saga continues.

What is most intriguing is that this whole razzmatazz does not seem to be about money at all; it seems to be about settling scores in the first place and obfuscating the pertinent issues so that people forget about the excruciatingly painful cost of living which is going through the roof and the looming protests over the betrayal as claimed by Azimio leaders.

When it is revealed that the same political leaders who are accusing their predecessors of looting the Treasury did the same thing by making extravagant demands on the Exchequer, then it becomes clear that we are in for a circus known as “whataboutism”.

This is the practice of responding to an accusation by making a counter-accusation. It happens, for instance, when a person accuses his mate of being unfaithful and she responds by reminding him that he too did it at one time.

It is not an actual denial, but it leaves the original accuser tongue-tied even if the counter-accusation has no basis. It is a specious ploy used by people who do not wish an issue settled one way or the other. This seems to be what is happening here.

Incidentally, there is no attempt here to exonerate anyone from wrongdoing; grand corruption did not start yesterday, nor will it end tomorrow. Article 223 of the Constitution does give the National Treasury leeway to spend on emergencies without seeking the approval of Parliament so long as that approval is sought after two months. It comes into play most often during crises and natural disasters, and, ominously, during transitions when the outgoing administration seeks to complete ongoing projects it deems essential, and the incoming administration wants to implement its own agenda.

The Auditor-General has promised to carry out a special audit on the use of this article during last year’s transition to find out whether any money was lost. But she should also extend that audit to the new Kenya Kwanza administration since we hear stories about the Deputy President’s office seeking gargantuan sums for its use.

Ways must be found to seal the loopholes that make this article prone to gross abuse, and at the end of the day, it will be upon Parliament to relook at it to ensure that National Treasuries are not emptied by outgoing regimes.

Widespread hunger

At a time when this country is going through the throes of widespread hunger due to prolonged drought, at a time when people’s purchasing power has gone down abysmally due to high inflation, and at a time when the government finds itself unable to fulfill many of the pledges it made, it is immoral to dwell on sideshows that have no value whatsoever to the ordinary folk.

Indeed, it is time both the government and the opposition joined hands to solve the myriad problems afflicting their subjects.

Perhaps the opposition should postpone its mass action initiative until a more propitious time, and the government postponed what is increasingly being seen as a witch-hunt against select operatives of the regime that is no longer in power.

Tinkering with bleak reality is like administering doses of opium on the people to make them forget their suffering, but that can only be for a while. Eventually they will wake up from their enforced lethargy and then there will be hell to pay.

Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor; [email protected]