What you need to know:
- Kabura’s story was intriguing. But the disappointment was palpable for television viewers who expected some bombshells — and editors who expected some bold one-liners.
- The young woman — and her case is still pending in courts — told the parliamentary committee that she started selling IT-related items and accessories before clinching the multimillion-shilling NYS deal.
- Hers sounded like the story of Lucy Mutema, the trader who claimed to have seen a crowd at Kemsa, and upon checking, she found out that the agency had been inviting people to tender. She was granted a Sh24 million tender to supply gloves, thermometers and face masks.
When Josephine Kabura walked into the Public Investment Committee auditorium for questioning, the Kiharu-born tenderpreneur of the Sh791 million National Youth Service (NYS) payment fame looked thunderstruck by the sea of cameras, flashing lights and focus on her.
Her story is the epilogue of previous efforts to employ “millions of jobless youths” and how the government handles such projects. The latest in the string of experiments is President William Ruto’s Housing Fund, where the employed will ostensibly build a housing kitty for the jobless – if the Finance Bill 2023 passes.
The youth will not only be engaged in the housing projects, but will be the first beneficiaries. That is what we have been told. In between, and this is what we have not been told, suppliers, contractors and brokers will make billions of shillings. If the housing levy ends with no scandal, it will be the first “clean” project in decades.
Back to NYS, Kabura’s story was intriguing. But the disappointment was palpable for television viewers who expected some bombshells — and editors who expected some bold one-liners. The young woman — and her case is still pending in courts — told the parliamentary committee that she started selling IT-related items and accessories before clinching the multimillion-shilling NYS deal.
Thanks to her conservative looks, nothing in her dressing gave an inkling into her wealth. Hers sounded like the story of Lucy Mutema, the trader who claimed to have seen a crowd at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa), and upon checking, she found out that the agency had been inviting people to tender. She was granted a Sh24 million tender to supply gloves, thermometers and face masks.
For Kabura, she had registered several companies — 20 of them as the sole proprietor — and in her own words, she “gave the papers to various institutions” and waited to see whether she would get any business. Luckily, she would tell the House, she was “contacted” and asked if she could supply road construction materials to the NYS.
“Contacted by whom?” a bewildered Public Investments Committee chairman Nicholas Gumbo asked.
“It was a general call,” said Kabura after a 30-second pause that seemed like a lifetime.
“Somebody must have called you … Remember this is Room 9. Somebody must have called you. Who called you?” Gumbo pressed her to drop names, assuring her that parliamentary rules protected her.
Kabura then bent her head down as if lost, or like a person transfixed in time. Deep within her, she was probably wondering whether to let the genie out of the bottle.
“If you have forgotten, tell us,” a member of the committee suggested to her.
“She can’t forget,” said the chairman.
But Kabura was unwilling to name the person who called or introduced her to the NYS tenders and millions. So then, after a lengthy silence, only broken by the shuffling of papers, she pressed the microphone button and said: “Procurement department. No individual.”
ODM chairman John Mbadi, who had not spoken all this time, looked at Kabura. He had realised that she was not forthcoming and was perhaps frightened.
These are now our fireside stories. These “story za jaba” have become part of our history as we use the youth’s names to line our pockets.
The NYS story and how the budgeted billions ended up in smoke has yet to be told. The masterminds may still be walking free — as political figures and tenderpreneurs. They are out there looking for the next scandal using other youths’ names.
There was also the Youth Fund, something close to Ruto’s Hustler Fund, which was turned into an eating den.
When the focus shifted to this parastatal, and the heat became too much, two of the masterminds, Catherine Namuye, the CEO, and Chairman Bruce Odhiambo, died mysteriously. They left one of the beneficiaries — Mukuria Ngamau — to navigate the scandal alone. He was fined Sh900 million or spend 27 years in jail.
We have also had, in recent memory, the Kazi kwa Vijana, and other bush-clearing projects, which was also used to swindle Kenyans. We had been told that this would create 300,000 jobs, but it also ended up in smoke.
But the NYS became a case study of wanton theft, and the auditor-general said as much. We all recall how the UhuRuto regime’s determination to “employ the youth” sought to expand the NYS and rebrand it. The government increased the NYS budget by 1,000 per cent and the rest is history. There was so much money floating at the NYS that the floodgates of scandals were opened.
In the history of Kenya, so many things have been done in the name of addressing massive employment.
There was a time in 1964 when the government embarked on massive registration of unemployed youth, and it hoped that the business people would shoulder that problem. The government opened 52 registration centres countrywide, intending to have all companies take in an extra 10 per cent of their workforce.
Tense and explosive
The registration would later be called off after it became untenable. Then Cotu Deputy Secretary-General J N Chege described the situation as “both tense and explosive. It is very important for the government to come up with new ways of how best the situation can be handled”. In Mombasa, Cotu Secretary-General Juma Boy said the registration system amounted to nothing but punishment: “This is in fact punishment of job seekers.”
Finally, the registration was called off.
William Ruto’s housing levy, which he says will create millions of jobs, echoes previous experiments that were done in the name of unemployed youth. He also thinks that the employed have a moral obligation to help the “unemployed”, a buzzword that includes those in the informal sector.
There was a time the government used to think that it could solve the unemployment problem by opening what it called “Kenyanisation” bureau. This was the thinking of the Minister for Labour, Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano, in the 1960s.
The bureau became an integral part of the Immigration policy in that it blocked foreigners from seeking jobs that could be done by Kenyans or which Kenyans could easily be trained to perform.
Dr Kiano said: “It is a shame that our young men and women are roaming the streets looking for work while some jobs they can do are occupied by foreigners.”
The Kenyanisation Bureau was to monitor companies and the job market to ensure that the provisions of the law were followed.
And that is how they started targeting the Asian community and had them removed from the Civil Service. They then targeted their trade, and most of the Asian communities lost their retail businesses, all in the name of employing the youth.
Another experiment was under the Transport Licensing Act, where non-citizen businesspeople had to seek a licence to operate as carriers. In 1967, the first year of its operation, some 3,000 Asians were denied licences.
Police were deployed across the country to stop trucks and lorries and scrutinise their ownership. They have never stopped. Instead, this licence became an avenue for collecting revenue and harassing motorists.
During the NYS II scandal, some youths were told that part of their money would go into a kitty. They were promised that no money would get lost after the project. When you ask those who worked in these projects in Kibera and elsewhere, they have no idea where the money went.
And that is how we look at the housing levy with some suspicion. We have been there before – and we have not even touched the Hustler Fund. Need I say more?
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