Health scandal shows Uhuru is no gamekeeper, he’s a master of the hunt

President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses a Jubilee Party special National Governing Council (NGC) meeting at Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi, on November 4, 2016. At William Ntimama’s funeral, the President gave us a new metaphor for graft, the meat eaters and the salivating. PHOTO | SAMUEL MIRING'U

What you need to know:

  • The money used to buy them was budgeted for reimbursing county governments’ for free maternity services.
  • The President will know that the air is pregnant with the question of how widespread this family corruption goes.
  • A courageous President would demand a disclosure by all his close relatives of the business they have done with the government since he assumed office.

Sometime ago, I mulled aloud that the President must have a secret think-tank somewhere with an inexhaustible capacity for generating foolish ideas — the sort of chaps that would have excelled at writing Monty Python scripts.

Someone who knows the President’s camp well retorted quickly that there is no such thing, and went on to expound that the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency is procurement driven.

What gets done, he said, is determined by who is getting what.

The theory fits the facts. I am referring here specifically to the procurement of contraptions being referred to as mobile clinics.

I remember from my school days that the mobile library drove into school, we would climb in, return and borrow books, and it would drive out again.

The contraptions do not have wheels. They cannot cost Sh10 million each by any stretch of imagination.

The cost of a used shipping container is in the order of Sh250,000 and a conversion to a clinic, including axles which our jua kali artisans can do, could not possibly cost more than Sh1 million.

More fundamentally, there was no approved budget.

The money used to buy them was budgeted for reimbursing county governments’ for free maternity services, one of the flagship programmes that the Jubilee administration has been bragging about.

The scandal also makes nonsense of the First Lady’s Beyond Zero initiative.

The cost of a mobile laboratory donated to the First Lady’s initiative was quoted at Sh8 million, and I would imagine that a laboratory is more expensive than a clinic.

Still even working with that figure, the money squandered and stolen on these containers works out to 125 units, but since such a large purchase would come with a discount, we are talking 150 units, three per county.

It is testament to how low our public morality has sunk that the crook behind this racket, or rather, its front, has the temerity to come out and defend it in public.

It could not be more fortuitous that this scandal broke out only days after the President’s corruption charade and feigned frustration at the failure of the state institutions to fight corruption.

Let us for arguments sake assume that Uhuru was sincere, and he is indeed genuinely committed to fighting graft. How would he have responded to this scandal?

ILL MOTIVES
He would have immediately acted on PS Nicholas Muraguri’s threat to journalists, which included implicating the government of the most egregious infringements of our right to privacy.

The utterance is a display of arrogance, irresponsibility and lack of judgement that is totally inimical to public service values and ethics.

The man should have gone and as we say in Gikuyu, na thi ikihora (and the trail gone cold).

A President committed to the rule of law would have stated categorically that there will be no sacred cows, that is, to send signals to the institutions that the members of his family should be treated as the lowliest person in society in a similar situation would be treated.

By so doing, the President would have emboldened investigators to do their work without fear.

This would have been important because the political tradition in this country is that members of the President’s family are untouchable.

So far, public indignation has been directed at the fact that two extremely privileged women were awarded contracts meant for disadvantaged youth and women.

It does not stop there. The company was paid within 10 days of invoicing the government. But these are minor details.

The big issue is that company in question, Sundales International, was incorporated a few months after Uhuru Kenyatta became President.

On its website, the company lists its lines of business as supplying health care products, building materials, construction equipment, dry foods, supplementary foods, printing services and investment consultancy services.

It also states that it serves “Government entities, parastatals, non-governmental organisations, corporates and counties”.

This is a tenderpreneurship special purpose vehicle set up specifically to profit from the family connections with the President.

But who, you may wonder, would seek business consultancy services from a supplier of ndengu and rose coco beans? (I am not embellishing, they are listed in the website).

It is not as anomalous as it seems. What is being advertised here is influence peddling, referred obliquely as “facilitation services”.

STATE OF CORRUPTION

I am not speculating. The business consultancy offered is described as “Pre-Investment Services” which includes “assistance in obtaining any necessary licences permits”.

Few people will disagree that the President’s sister and cousin have impeccable credentials for this.

In civilised polities, the potential for conflict of interest between public and private interests is one of the most important considerations for high office, and the higher the office, the more the scrutiny.

Many countries require people with business interests and financial investments that portend conflict of interest to dispose such interests or to put them in “blind trusts” when they take up senior public appointments.

A blind trust is an entity that is managed in a manner that the beneficiary does not know and cannot influence what it does.

The UK for example has an office, the Independent Adviser on Ministers Interests, whose job is to scrutinise potential appointees, business and financial interests and advice on how to eliminate conflict with their public duties.

The current government for example has 13 ministers who were advised to put their interests in blind trusts.

Let us come back to earth. Here we have one example of the complete reverse — a business that was created to milk proximity to power.

Whether it is stupidity or impunity we are not likely to know for sure, but the fact that the proprietors had the cheek to call a press conference to defend their business, and the fact that the website is still up shows complete lack of remorse or sense of shame. Something is rotten in the State of Denmark.

The President will know that the air is pregnant with the question of how widespread this family corruption goes.

The rumour mill is already abuzz with other potential scandals, including the involvement of close family members in the controversial Sh38 billion health equipment leasing programme.

To be sure, these innuendos are not new — they’ve been there from the outset.

The citizens are entitled to know everything there is to know about the family’s business dealings with the public.

This is called transparency. It is the ultimate antidote for corruption.

CRACK THE WHIP
A courageous President would demand a disclosure by all his close relatives of the business they have done with the government since he assumed office and make this information public.

This is of course a double-edged sword, because there is no knowing what will come out.

But in fact he would have more to gain than lose in doing so.

If the business is not corrupt, there is nothing to fear since it is not illegal, only scandalous.

Second, if there are dealings that are corrupt, then the President will demonstrate that he is prepared to let them carry their own crosses.

Whether he gets a grip or not, the one thing he can be assured is that the dam has broken.

More importantly, he would be leading by example.

If he can demonstrate that he is prepared to throw corrupt family members under the bus, he would in one instant gain the moral legitimacy to demand the same of the members of his administration.

The Deputy President, Cabinet Secretaries and even Permanent Secretaries would have to follow suit.

An assault on conflict of interest goes to the very core of corruption in this country.

Yet it does not require the President to invoke any constitutional or legal powers.

It does not require cooperation of any of the state agencies that he was scapegoating the other day. All it requires is moral courage. Back to earth again.

Start with the round up of the Business Daily newspaper that broke the story.

The last incidence of this nature was the March 2006 Standard newspaper raid, which John Michuki, then Minister for Security acknowledged was a “Government Operation” undertaken to “protect the image of the President”.

GRAFT PATTERN

The fightback that the story has triggered, as incompetent as it is, suggests the same rationale.

This is of itself corruption and abuse of power.

It is not the duty of the government to shield members of the President’s family, or the President himself for that matter, when they are implicated in misconduct.

Muraguri is still in his post, even after it has come to light that he had sought to have the auditor removed, quite evidently to kill the audit.

These are the career criminals I was referring to in my last column.

The Cabinet Secretary who commissioned the audit is now quite evidently under intense pressure to undermine its findings, including that dead give away “no money was lost”.

Mwiraria told us no money was lost in Anglo Leasing — turned out to be Kibaki’s racket.

Anne Waiguru told us no money was lost in NYS. President Kenyatta defended her until it became politically untenable.

And Mailu goes ahead to say no money was lost? Talk about lack of imagination.

A small group of youthful activists whose stated goal was to deliver a petition to the President were tear gassed and beaten up before they could even start their procession.

This is against the backdrop of members of the Presidents family stealing opportunities for youth.

At William Ntimama’s funeral, the President gave us a new metaphor for graft, the meat eaters and the salivating.

A fortnight later, he threw in the towel. I would hope that this health scandal has brought home to many what this column has been saying for three years.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is no gamekeeper, he is the master of the hunt.

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