Kenya’s poverty created by leaders

Dollar sack

53 per cent of Kenyans were reported to have sunk into poverty, a jump of 15 per cent from previous levels.

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More Kenyans sink into poverty. That was this newspaper’s headline last Tuesday. It wrote that 53 per cent of Kenyans were reported to have sunk into poverty, a jump of 15 per cent from previous levels.

Many factors were thought to have contributed to that, with a Covid-19-battered economy bearing most of the blame. But how many Kenyans have been pushed into poverty by corruption?

Before that story, the Daily Nation had also reported on the auditor-general’s findings at the Department of Gender, where Sh104 million meant for distribution of menstrual pads to girls in schools went missing.

And in Mombasa, healthcare workers had reportedly threatened to go on strike due to delayed salaries. Ironically, Mombasa County Assembly, which had failed to pay them, had millions to spend on a New Year Eve concert!

When I shared with a friend the article on loss of funds for menstrual pads, “Gender docket in a spot over Sh104 million sanitary pads cash”, he replied with only two Kiswahili words: “Kenya tulirogwa (We, Kenyans, have been bewitched)”.

But I still wonder what witches or wizards have to do with corrupt Kenyan officials and corruption itself. Are corrupt religious people bewitched too, when they presumably have little to do with witches, given their monotheistic beliefs?

Our problems are not caused by witches, gods or God but lack of compassion for fellow human beings and sense of patriotism. And nothing explains our foibles as uncompassionate people better than the public health sector. The latest case involving Mombasa on delayed salaries for medics, for instance, speaks volumes for how those in authority have different priorities from the people they are meant to serve.

To think that a concert is more important than paying salaries to key workers in the health sector exemplifies everything that is wrong with the leadership in counties and ministries. Mombasa hospitals, like many others globally, are battling the pandemic. If there is a time to pay health workers promptly, then a pandemic is it.

Delaying salaries for workers, whether they are in the health sector or elsewhere serving the public, reduces their purchasing power and has huge implications for the economy. Public sector workers in Kenya have been affected the most when it comes to delayed salaries and pensions.

Money to hold a party

As the faux pas in Mombasa shows, the problem is created by the officials in charge rather than alleged empty government coffers. Surely, if there is money to hold a party, there ought to be money to pay workers their dues first. You can only think of having a good time after meeting workers’ needs—I would imagine!

It’s not only irresponsible but cruel to delay salaries and pensions. Many workers have themselves and their families to look after and, with no money coming in, it’s impossible for them to meet their needs— even the basic ones. It may explain, to a degree, why corruption perhaps thrives in the public sector. If workers are not paid their dues, they will look elsewhere for other means to survive and hence bribes being synonymous with most public offices.

It’s one thing to be paid low salaries and another to not receive a salary. Even a low salary paid on time would go miles to keep families out of poverty than getting nothing at all. It’s just common sense.

Delayed pension is one area that NSSF has failed in for many decades. Kenyans who served the public with dedication have gone to their graves after waiting for years for their pension, to no avail, leaving behind struggling families.

What justification has NSSF to delay pension apart from fuelling the bribery culture and poverty? Retirement is a time when workers should enjoy the fruits of their hard work and live comfortably in their twilight years. Not in Kenya. It would rather see senior citizens suffer at a time when they should be cared for the most.

Payment of salaries and pensions is a contractual agreement. It, therefore, must be paid when it is contracted to be paid, not a day later, unless there is a justified reason for it. Even then, it should be paid with interest. It’s the workers’ earnings.

It’s a legal duty to ensure that salaries and pensions are processed on time and paid as agreed. Ifs and buts should not come into it. We must hold those with the fiduciary duty, in both the national and county governments, to account to ensure that no worker goes without their full dues at the end of the month.

The delayed salaries and poverty appear to be a creation of human beings running government institutions and nothing to do with voodoo. The government must put money in people’s hands to increase their purchasing power and keep the economy turning. If it’s honest about reducing poverty, then let it fight corruption and pay salaries and pensions on time.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo


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