Monday, February 16, 2009

Keep the Civil Servants Out of this!

By Lukoye Atwoli
Published in the Sunday Nation 15 February 2009, page 23

This past week, the Grand Coalition government continued in its bumbling ways. Despite the deafening silence over the issue of ‘constitutional office holders’ and MPs paying tax, the government has now moved to ask civil servants to ‘donate’ a tenth of their March salaries to a fund meant to alleviate the suffering of hungry Kenyans. The same fund is meant to create opportunities for jobless youth among other ‘brilliant’ government ideas!
As many commentators have already repeated ad nauseum, this government has completely lost the plot. Once again they are turning to the hapless civil servant who is carrying the huge burden of taking care of his or her own family as well as many other people who are either relatives or close friends. Apart from the huge tax burden placed upon the self-same civil servant, a further levy of ten percent will be imposed on them next month.
Once this practice is accepted, nobody knows where it will end. Next time the dykes of Budalang’i break and river Nzoia floods its basin, the government may turn once again to its loyal employees and impose some new tax in the form of a ‘contribution’ to help those affected. Soon any tragedy will result in some form of taxation to help deal with the crisis.
Indeed it should not come as a surprise when a national ‘benevolence fund’ is set up, quite apart from the regular tax regime, to provide funds to help finance national mourning in case some self-important potentate chokes on his sumptuous dinner and kicks the proverbial bucket!
It should not be lost on Kenyans that a number of ministers in this same government have refused to pay taxes, questioning why they should pour their money into a veritable bottomless pit whose use they are not sure of. Some even went as far as saying that they would only pay tax when they are sure the money will go back to their own constituencies! Turning back to Kenyans and assuming they have the memories of mosquitoes is the height of insensitivity on the part of our politicians.
These same Kenyans are now buying maize meal at prices that have never been seen in the history of this country as a result of outright theft by those charged with the responsibility of maintaining a strategic grain reserve. The same Kenyans are paying extortionate amounts of money for fuel and transport because the political class has colluded with thieving businessmen to steal oil and profit from the misery of the majority.
Law-abiding citizens are now expected to increase their tax ‘contribution’ to over forty percent, while their rulers philanthropically give a paltry ten percent of their hefty pay to the same cause. One politician even went as far as to suggest that his constituents were poor and miserable as a result of paying taxes, and he had no desire to join them in their poverty!
It does not take a tax specialist to calculate how much money would be raised every month were KRA allowed to tax the incomes of MPs and all those legally exempted from paying tax. This would be raised in perpetuity, and not just in one month. Notwithstanding the itchy fingers of our ruling class, it is a sure bet the money would go a long way in alleviating the suffering of millions of Kenyans perennially faced with starvation.
Kenyans should give considerable thought to boycotting this latest attempt at robbery in broad daylight, and continue channeling their philanthropy away from this kleptocratic regime, helping their starving relatives and neighbours as they have always done. As long as the ‘contribution’ remains voluntary, we should let the political class shoulder this burden all on their own.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Prayer and Begging Can't Be our Policy

Story By Dr Lukoye Atwoli

(Edited Version published Sunday Nation 08 February 2008, Page 20)

Last week, following the Sachang’wan fire disaster which came hot on the heels of the Nakumatt fire, the government came out guns blazing and declared that the survivors of these incidents would get the ‘best care available in the country’, in the words of the Prime Minister. Foreign medics were promised to help treat those with severe injuries. Five days of official mourning were quickly declared, and Kenyans were exhorted to pray and seek divine intervention in these trying times.

Later, the government set up a ‘fund’ to raise money for survivors of both incidents in a tacit recognition of the fact that there is no coherent policy to tackle the poverty that continues to spread remorselessly across the country.

These responses by the government betray a system tottering on the brink of collapse. Promising the ‘best available care’ to survivors of a disaster while the rest of the citizenry suffer under a system of healthcare that seems to function despite the best efforts of government is callous at best!

Going out to beg for money mostly from the tax-paying public to fund emergency health care is a terrible indictment of a government that has failed to provide for a system of universal health care that would have taken care of the majority of the citizenry in times of need. Noises are only made about such a system during the election cycle, but it is soon forgotten once the politicians are safely in power.

Instead of dealing with the real causes of the incidents, such as a failure to ensure public safety in the Nakumatt case, and complex interplay of road safety, greed, poverty and security failures in the Sachang’wan case, the government chose to play safe and ask Kenyans to mourn the dead and pray for the living!

Indeed those responsible for the failures that resulted in these incidents are sleeping soundly with no threat of litigation or public opprobrium in the unlikely event that their failures are exposed. It is a fair certainty that after all mea culpas and attendant rituals, nobody will be held responsible for any of the incidents.

It is all good and proper to pray and ask God for divine guidance, but this cannot become a national policy in the event of every problem we face. It is a practice that indicates a lack of planning and preparation for multiple eventualities. It exposes leaders who got into government expecting fun and games, and faced with unfavorable conditions, they discover they have no idea how to handle the situation.

A government whose idea of disaster intervention is to turn to prayer and declare several days of national mourning has no business governing. As a society, we set up government in order for it to deal with the difficult times and the disasters that we face from time to time. Most people would have absolutely no problem taking care of the good times.

It follows therefore that a government that does not know how to handle the tough times and crises needs to go back to the electorate, confess their ineptitude and allow the citizens to elect a new team to run the country.

It is time Kenyans faced up to the reality that most of the post-Moi era has been a wasted opportunity. The optimism that greeted the NARC government was misplaced, and the Grand Coalition extension of that mistake is even worse than its predecessor. It is tottering from crisis to crisis without a game plan, and perhaps it is time we ended this experiment and moved on to better things.

It is time for the emergence of a new crop of leaders who have a comprehensive vision of the sort of future they want for their children and grand-children. It is time we conceptualized a government devoid of these cognitively challenged Neanderthals and their cronies, and thought up a system where values matter, and parties stand for something. If it turns out to be too difficult for us to imagine this, let us then at least turn to individuals who actually believe in something, and who will take responsibility for their failures.

Let us move beyond ‘leaders’ who threaten the entire nation with disintegration whenever their names are mentioned in any way that reflects negatively on their character and record. We must also brush aside those whose only claim to leadership is the invocation of their ethnic pedigree.

It is said that true leaders are forged in times of crisis. Nature has handed us many crises, and unless we take advantage of them and shake up our system of governance, we are doomed to bequeath the next generation with worse leaders than the ones we have today.