SHAW: Did address short-change Kenyans?

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Much has been spoken and written about President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation address last week.

His supporters say he gave a comprehensive summary of what has been done or is to be done.

His critics say it was long on spin but short on action, and he largely continues to talk rather than walk that talk.

It is fair to say many Kenyans expected a speech with more substance and concreteness. They feel short-changed and believe he missed a great opportunity.

Let’s delve a little into the speech. Yes, the President gave a comprehensive, but selective, summary of what has been done and what is yet to be done.

He went into some detail regarding security and how the country was in a more alert and prepared state than before.

He gave an eloquent summary of corruption and impunity and its corrosive effects on the country.

He emphasised the magnitude of the war against it. He made much of the vital prerequisite that the institutions involved in this multi-agency approach be strengthened and recharged.

Certainly, a lot of work is going on to build the capacity and skills of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP); maybe he should have dwelt more on that.

Whether the Chief Justice feels the Judiciary is receiving a commensurate increase in resources is an open question.

He gave a summary of the number of Cabinet secretaries (CSs), principal secretaries, governors and other public officers who had been charged or removed over corruption-related offences during his tenure and said, yet again, that there will be no sacred cows.

Certainly, a momentum has gathered and is speeding up, but it is good to step back from the speech and its high-sounding rhetoric and make a seasoned and distanced evaluation.

First, corruption is rife and, indeed, rampant. Much of President Kenyatta’s time in office has witnessed a kid-gloves approach to a rampaging dragon.

It is only in the past year or so that we have seen greater resolve and action. But then again, it is a work in progress that is in its early stages.

We are yet to see substantive convictions of culprits and the ill-gotten assets frozen or seized are pitifully low in relation to the enormity of the looting.

For the President to say it is an “all-out assault” is a bit rich. Take the dams scams, for example.

President Kenyatta has serving CSs who were, or are, in the relevant dockets when the scandalous deals were hatched, signed and sealed.

Now this is where the main bone of contention is: In most accountable governments, those who were in charge or have been mentioned should resign. If they do not, then they should be relieved of their duties as investigations are completed.

Amani party leader Musalia Mudavadi spoke for many when he said, “I am asking the President to order state officials whose dockets have been named in scandals, some amounting to billions of shillings, to resign. If they don’t, he must sack them so that effective investigations can be conducted against them.”

The last point is a key principle when investigating anyone, here or elsewhere. They must be separated from the state they work for and which, in turn, is also investigating them.

On graft, the President seems to be hiding behind the need to have a case in court — an argument that is a softly-softly approach and which, some argue, is vulnerable to manipulation.

This is too gentle an “assault”, not the “all-out assault” he talked about, and casts doubt on his assertion that “this is one war I am certain we will win”.

It is timely to remind ourselves of a recent statement by the Israeli ambassador to Kenya, Noah Gal Gendler, about the stalled Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme.

He stated that this is the first Israeli-funded project to fail in the nation’s 70 years. Israel is a world leader on irrigation projects.

What a stinging indictment on Kenya — and the National Irrigation Board in particular!

Another cloudy area of the President’s address was regarding the rocketing ascent in our debt and our actual ability to service it, let alone provide adequate resources for the “Big Four” agenda.

Promises about the latter largely ring hollow when there is a lack of reality about how to fund them.

We literally do not have the resources to do that and borrowing is becoming less and less of an option.

There is a line of thought that President Kenyatta is cautiously laying the ground for further action, and that a State of the Nation speech is not the right forum to sack ministers and other public servants.

Let us hope it was this, rather than a change of tack on the vexed subject, that will undoubtedly define his legacy.

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