The Connection Between High Food Prices and Grand Corruption
Bunge La Mwananchi held a forum on Wednesday 2nd July, 2008 at Professional Centre Nairobi, between 1.00 pm and 5.00 pm. as part of its civil awareness initiative to rally people around issues that affect them. Bunge La Mwananchi had in the recent past organised an activity in which Kenyans held street protest to complain against the high food prices. There has been a continuing debate amongst grass root Kenyans as to what is truly causing the high food prices. Theories proposed have ranged from there having been poor harvests due to lack of rain; and the after-effect of the post-elections violence and displacement; the disappearance of traditional foods from the farmers’ options of crops and that the food crisis is a global problem.
While there may be some truth in these factors, Kenyans nevertheless see a clear link between the high food prices and corruption; where they define corruption as bad leadership, lack of ethics in governance and mismanagement of resources. To explore this more, the topic of discussion of the forum was “The connection between high food prices and grand corruption”. Attendance was estimated at 230 people drawn from grass-root leaders of CBOs, slum groups and the general public.
Key issues arising from the discussions:
1. It was noted that corruption is not a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, due to its having been around for a while, it is increasingly being treated as a normal issue despite where it is driving the country. It is important that a firm and long lasting solution is explored and adopted concerning how we treat corruption as a country.
2. It was cautioned that civic vigilance must be heightened so that political leaders are held accountable to their constituents.
3. It was noted that through corruption, Kenya has lost a lot of funds. In Goldenberg we lost K.Shs. 140 billion, an additional K.Shs. 300 billion was identified as lost by the Kroll report and a further K.Shs. 120 billion in the Anglo-Leasing scandal; yet this is by no means an exhaustive list. Looking at these collosal figures, it is unclear why our leaders are seeking aid at all. It was suggested that as we deal with current corruption scandals, perpetrators of past scandals are still with us and should be held to answer. It is time to hold the different political regimes accountable in recovering the lost funds.
4. Government’s mandate is to provide security against threats for its citizen; when a government cannot ensure security against all forms of threat it does not business of being in power. Food insecurity has endangered many lives in Kenya especially West and East Pokot where our people are feeding wild carcases and rats; this leads us to wonder, do we have a government?
5. In our history we have had subtle corruption scandals that have somehow slipped under the public radar. For example the process of government tendering seems to belong to an exclusive clique that does business with the government, since no Wananchi ever qualify. Even in employment, people in the public service who have attained retirement age are still holding on to jobs as their contracts and continuously renewed. Further, in a nation where there is a high level of unemployment it is corruption for there to be individuals that hold more than one salaried position.
6. According to Marsgroup Kenya, a research firm, in a publication in the Nairobi Star, there are many government resource wastages. For example, the Ministry of Finance has been allocated K.Shs. 500,000/= per day for hospitality and as much as K.Shs. 12 million is spent every public holiday in flying the president’s speech to different parts of Kenya – why not fax it as it is usually a 3 pg document? They also point out that the money is extravagantly spent on foreign trips, servicing government vehicles and paying for office space that is not used. If that money was well managed we would have surplus funds that would be used as a safety net against high food prices.
7. The debate on corruption is now focussed on the Grand Regency. However, the crusaders are themselves suspect e.g. for having been involved in past corruption – is this a cover up? MPs debate on Grand Regency comes close on the heels of their refusal to pay tax. Refusal to pay tax is also corruption. So is the debate a decoy from the taxation issue?
8. Before the Grand Regency there were issues that concerned Kenyans e.g. resettlement and compensation of IDPs, minimum wage increase demand, high food prices. While these issues touched on Wananchi directly and we expected our MPs and civil society leadership to fight for us, we did not see them address these issues with as much passion as the Grand Regency issue. Although Grand Regency scandal is not acceptable, why didn’t our MPs and Civil Society leaders fight as passionately on the Mwananchi issues? At the reading of the budget, Kenyans were promised that the moves recommended by the finance minister would cause prices on rice and wheat to fall. The situation on the ground is starkly different.
9. It was noted that the Grand Regency scam is not the first in which Kimunya has been implicated. There was the De La Rue tender, the continued payment of the Anglo leasing promissory note, Safaricom IPO’s management, Mobitelea (swindled cash from the public). So in dealing with Grand Regency, the above context should form a consideration.
10. The minister of agriculture promised having taken steps to bring down the price of fertiliser but this is yet to be done. Why?
11. There is money the government set aside for the resettlement of IDPs and their compensation fund but it is not clear who is managing the fund and the amount of it. It could well be the next scandal we have to deal with.
12. There’s been a long standing project for rural electrification. The recent introduction of a standing charge of 120/= is a scam. How can people who cannot afford to live on 1$ (a dollar) a day be expected to pay simply for being hooked up to the grid? They thought it was a relief and now it is an additional a liability. If 1,000,000 houses pay the standing charge alone, then there is a cool 120,000,000/= to be made. If not properly scrutinised it has the makings of another grand scandal.
13. It is not clear why the Ndungu land report has not been implemented by successive regimes. Is it because the report implicated the powerful individuals and successive regimes haven’t had nerve to take them on? Isn’t this abetting past corrupt land deals to subsist a day longer with each passing day that the report remains merely a report?
14. In the peace accord, the fourth agenda was to do with land, unemployment, poverty, issues of resource and redistribution of wealth. If the politicians move on and forget about agenda four, that is corruption.
15. Section 25(a) and 56(b) of the Kenya Anti Corruption Authority and Economic Crimes Act are sections of the law that perpetuate impunity by freeing people implicated in corruption. If the politicians were serious with fighting corruption how did this section get into our laws?
1. Kibaki must stick to what he said at his swearing in ceremony in 2003: “that corruption shall cease to be our way of life”. He should do that by eliminating all people reasonably suspected of corruption from his government and prosecuting those against whom evidence of corruption is compiled. The buck stops with him.
2. The politicians who are mentioned in past corruption such as YK92, Land grabbing, Anglo Leasing, Kenren fertilizers among others and leading in the protest against the Kimunya Grand Regency saga must stay warned that they are also on line.
3. Raila is a recent victim of corruption (flawed election) and therefore must be give leadership in ensuring that the fight against corruption is won. Raila has interest for presidency 2012 and must start now to fight corruption and impunity exercised by the powerful individuals in our society and not wait for campaign trails to make pledges.
4. While a commission of inquiry would be due process in investigating Kimunya and rooting out corruption from the treasury, from Kenyans’ past experience with previous inquiries we do not have faith in the process and have misgivings that the commission could be used to sanitize Kimunya and return him back as Minister of Finance.
5. Ndungu land report should be made public and its recommendations implemented. There are people who looted land and made millions of Kenyans landless and they must be held accountable to return the land so that we can resettle the IDPs, squatters and landless Kenyans.
6. The laws that support impunity should be deleted from our law especially section 25(a) and 56(b) of the Anti Corruption and Economic crime Act.
Bunge la Mwananchi
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