Raila succumbs to ODM job promises

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, must be ruing that day in December when he promised top government jobs to the ODM rank and file.

“The government is very big and there are enough jobs for everybody in ODM,” said Raila in Kiswahili when he was running for the presidency. ODM aspirants who had lost the party primaries would be employed in the civil service, diplomatic corps, judiciary, security services and state-owned corporations.

It is because of this promise that rumbles are being experienced not only in the civil service but within the ODM party. Its obvious that some people currently in top public positions will have to give way to political appointees. On the other hand, its also rather obvious that there are only limited positions to be distributed among ODM hopefuls.

Matters are made worse by the fact that ODM is in a coalition with President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s ODM-Kenya. They are all eyeing the top jobs in order to reward their own followers.

Its largely because of delays in awarding government jobs that ODM is experiencing a crisis. Indeed, the Grand Opposition of legislator Abaabu Namwamba is a product of politicians disappointed at being left out of the cabinet. Amidst growing dissent, ODM is moving fast to assuage discontent within its masses.

With impending retirements and reshuffles within the public service, the party may have found the opportunity to deliver on its December promise. Top jobs at the Kenya Revenue Authority, KenGen, Posta among other large state-controlled organizations are up for grabs. The party also wants to appoint permanent secretaries, diplomats, military commanders and judges. Already, ODM friendly lawyers are lobbying for the removal of Chief Justice Evans Gicheru.

Recent changes are a pointer of things to come. Kenya Ports Authority’s Abdullah Mwaruwa was retired last month and a replacement is yet to be found amidst lobbying that the job should be taken by someone from a coastal ethnic group.

At the Rift Valley Railways, South African Roy Puffet, was fired and his seat given to ODM backer, Mr Brown Ondego. Meanwhile, the government declined to extend the contract of a Canadian chief executive at the Kenya Power and Lighting Company. Mr Don Prescott’s job went to a Kenyan from the president’s ethnic group.

Last week’s debacle at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) over its chief executive provided a glimpse of the tussles within government over political appointments. Labour Minister, John Munyes, used corruption allegations to dismiss NSSF Managing Trustee, Mrs Rachel Lumbasyo. The Labour Minister immediately appointed Mr Fred Rabong’o in her place.

The decision was met with uproar by NSSF’s staff. While Mrs Lumbasyo had spent years at the corporation before her appointment as Managing Trustee, Mr Rabong’o is a public relations consultant with no known experience in pension funds administration.

NSSF’s board of trustees, consisting of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) and the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) immediately rejected the appointment by Munyes. The situation became complicated because a Managing Trustee in NSSF cannot make decisions without the approval of COTU and FKE.

The matter went to Raila’s office at Treasury Building and it was resolved that Mrs Lumbasyo complete her term at NSSF. However, almost immediately, Raila overturned the consensus and sent Mrs Lumbasyo packing. Raila instructed Munyes to recruit a new Managing Trustee in coming months. Canvassing for the job among the pool of political appointees is in high gear.

Within the same week, the government swept out the command of Kenya Prisons and replaced it with outsiders. The new prisons commissioner, Mr Isaiah Osugo, was an officer with the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). He will be assisted by former Administration Police commandant George Macgoye. Reaction from prison warders has been muted so far. The warders went on a mutiny several months ago protesting poor housing and corrupt leadership.

The Kenyan people are concerned that politicians are sacrificing merit and technical ability for the sake of pleasing their cronies. Truth is that the ordinary Kenyan is unlikely to get a civil service job any time soon. Majority of people whose names are being floated for top government jobs are individuals who were in public service since independence and who were previously fired for mismanagement.

It is these same individuals that are responsible for Kenya’s downturn as indicated by depressing economic and social statistics. State corporations took a downward plunge from which recovery has been difficult, if not impossible.

A large percentage of candidates being mentioned for political reward appointments have been implicated in corruption scandals that led to the collapse of strategic organizations. The irony is that these individuals are extremely wealthy and they don’t really need their old jobs back.

It appears that political appointees will get their wishes while qualified and hardworking citizens stagnate in the morass of unemployment. For such is the state of Kenya.

State authority collapsed during poll chaos

A report by Kenya’s official human rights body highlights the extent to which state authority collapsed as ethnic clashes raged following disputed elections last December.

A group of armed policemen were seen looting a shopping centre under the command of a police inspector.

Chiefs on government payroll led gangs of youth in an orgy of killing. Well-known politicians attended meetings to lay strategies for death and destruction. Business people availed free use of matatus, trucks, land and machinery for training and logistical operations. Funds drives were held to import weapons from Somalia and Ethiopia.

While police in the towns of Kisumu and Nairobi used desperate tactics to assert government authority, commanders in the rural areas abandoned their stations and took sides with their ethnic groups. A senior police officer in one of the worst hit areas told victims of clashes to take care of themselves.

The revelations are contained in a report released last month by the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. Due to the ongoing Waki Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence, the press has been barred from mentioning the names of those linked to ethnic clashes. The Nairobi Chronicle has obtained a copy of the explosive report, which is freely circulating on the Internet. However, we are unable to publish names for fear of legal and other consequences.

Since release of the report, several politicians implicated in the violence have cited their innocence. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Agriculture Minister William Ruto, Tourism Minister Najib Balala, Higher Education Minister Sally Kosgei and Heritage Minister William ole Ntimama have denied organizing and funding the clashes.

In an interesting twist of events, three of the top politicians named in the report have since died. One was murdered by a policeman while the other two died in an accident. Its not clear whether the unnatural circumstances of their deaths have anything to do with the political and ethnic clashes.

By March this year, close to 1,000 people were dead and half a million rendered homeless. International mediation efforts resulted in a coalition government that has presided over a tense peace. Many of the displaced are still in camps due to continued threats. A few thousand have settled in Uganda.

The KNCHR report unveils a financial angle to the violence. Youth were paid between Shs400 to Shs500 (US$5.8 – $7.3) a day for their “services.” The monetary inducement is obviously appealing due to widespread poverty and high rates of unemployment in Kenya. There was a monetary scale of payment depending on the ethnicity of the victim: even in death, certain tribes attracted greater wrath than others.

Eyewitness accounts reveal that there existed a logistical and financial chain between politicians in Nairobi and youth on the ground. Mobile phones were used to issue orders and to confirm implementation.

Entire ethnic groups rose up against their perceived rivals and politicians played a key role in mobilization. Its possible that majority of ordinary people were not initially inclined to violence. However, there were threats of death for those refusing to participate. Indeed, many who resisted the call to arms had their property destroyed. This happened in all sides to the conflict.

Serving and retired security officers trained militia groups at the behest of politicians. In several instances, the use of firearms by civilian combatants was recorded. Its not clear how these militias obtained guns. Bridges were destroyed using explosive material. The KNCHR report has confirmed claims that top politicians plotted on importing heavy weapons from Ethiopia and Somalia.

There has been a lot of debate over whether the post election violence was planned. It may well be true that the early violence was a spontaneous reaction to a botched election. However, once the violence began, it assumed a life of its own and became a monster.

People felt that the Kenyan government had stopped existing. The security structure, the civil service, all of it collapsed. There was no government to protect the people.

Trade, transport and agriculture stopped functioning. Vast swathes of land were cut-off from the outside world. Chaos reigned as food and fuel supplies ran out. Nobody knew what was happening in the next district, let alone the rest of the country. Every man had to do whatever was necessary to defend families and property. That explains why ordinary citizens went to extraordinary lengths to donate their time, energy, money and other resources.

Amidst all these, the politicians were comfortably placed in Nairobi, issuing orders from the comfort of their plush residences. When asked to stop, they adamantly refused. By the end of January, newly elected Members of Parliament started earning hundreds of thousands in salaries as the countryside lay in ruin. It may just be possible that some of that cash was channeled into financing more chaos.

Has Kenya learnt anything from events of the past nine months? Only time will tell.

Monday’s gold raises Kenya’s Olympic hopes

Just moments after the Nairobi Chronicle highlighted the mess in Kenya’s Olympic delegation, our athletes managed to bag several gold medals.

There was ecstatic pride across the country in celebration of Kenya’s victory in the races, as Pamela Jelimo and Brimin Kipruto won Kenya’s first gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Kenya is today, the highest placed African nation in 18th place with two gold, three silver and two bronze medals. Ethiopia lies 24th with two gold and one silver while Zimbabwe are 30th on the log with one gold and three silver medals. All of Zimbabwe’s medals were won by swimmer Kirsty Coventry.

More on Kenya’s Olympic victories In the Daily Nation website. >>

Kenya’s athletes have done the country proud but a lot needs to change as far as sports administration is concerned. If anything, the sterling performance is in spite of rather than because of our administrators. Kenya’s athletes are hard working professionals spurred to victory by the desire for national and international fame.

Unless something is done about the National Olympic Committee (NOCK), Athletics Kenya and other bodies, we are likely to witness more of the same mistakes in future.

Kenya’s poor show at Olympic games

Kenyans are awakening to the painful reality that our country’s performance at the Beijing Olympics is far below previous trends.

By today, Kenya only had a few medals, all from the longer races. Instead of scoring victories, Kenya’s delegation is plagued by infighting because of bad decisions. The professional conduct of Kenyan Olympic officials is so blatantly incompetent that it borders on sabotage of our sporting aspirations.

The irony is that Zimbabwe, with all its problems, is fairing much better than Kenya.

In a typical example of the woes afflicting the Kenyan team, last minute changes to the women’s 10,000 metres race resulted in a fiasco. Grace Momanyi was replaced by Peninah Arusei, who went on to grab 18th position in the race. Linet Masai, who was defeated by Momanyi during national trials, was allowed into the race and came out 4th place.

Masai claims that she didn’t know that white people could run so fast. She could have won a bronze medal but was overtaken at the last minute by Shalane Flanagan, an American. Arusei attributed her failure to, “a stitch which caused a sharp pain in my stomach.” With excuses like these, Kenyan sports has a very bleak future indeed.

The decision to replace Momanyi caused an uproar within the Kenyan contingent as officials engaged in damage control. Momanyi was so heartbroken that she cried in public and demanded the next flight back to Kenya. Momanyi could not understand how people she had defeated at the trials could be allowed to represent the country at her expense.

Problems for Kenya’s contingent were evident long before this. Infact, as the Olympic flame was lit at Beijing, dozens of Kenyan athletes were stranded in Nairobi for lack of tickets. Meanwhile, officials of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) were in Beijing a full week before the games. Even the team’s physiotherapist almost missed a ticket!

Still on last weekend’s drama, the Standard newspaper reports that not all of Kenya’s athletes are staying at the Olympic village. They had to get lodgings in other parts of Beijing with little access to training facilities. The affected athletes have complained of being sidelined.

By now, you must be thinking that our people couldn’t possibly do any worse. Brace yourself.

The International Olympic Committee reprimanded NOCK officials for mistreating the media.  According to the Daily Nation, the granting of day passes to Kenyan journalists was, “as hard to come by as Olympic medals for the Maldives.” Following criticism by the world body, Kenya’s chief of mission, Mr David Okeyo, apologized to the press and promised to facilitate access to the Kenyan team by the media.

In the months leading to the Olympics, there were disagreements over training venues and the use of substitutes. Kenyan athletes based overseas were reluctant to train at home. Maybe it is the conduct of NOCK and Athletics Kenya that discouraged them.

Kenya’s Olympic aspirations join the long list of sporting activities that have been ruined by maladministration, greed and political interference. Kenyan soccer is a basket case. Cricket is mired in controversies driven by racial differences. Volleyball suffered the same fate afflicting athletics, as replacements were made abruptly and with no recourse by aggrieved players. Hockey, handball and rallying are in a shambles. However, rugby seems to be doing quite well with impressive scores in recent months.

Kenya still has some hopes in Jason Dunford, who set a new world record in swimming, albeit for seven minutes. The fact that he is a white Kenyan attracted lots of attention from the international press.

Police station burnt in Dagoretti riots

A police station was burnt in Dagoretti yesterday after a government decision to close Nairobi’s biggest abattoir because of environmental pollution. Rioting workers also attempted to uproot the railway line to Western Kenya before they were dispersed by police.

The workers appealed to the government to reverse the closure, saying that the abattoir is their only source of livelihood. Meanwhile, meat prices began rising in Nairobi, with butchery operators fearing a drop in demand from consumers hard-hit by rising fuel and electricity costs.

This week, the National Environment Management Agency (NEMA) ordered the closure of the Dagoretti slaughterhouse, which is the main source of meat to Nairobi. NEMA says that waste disposal at the slaughter house is chaotic and pollutes nearby rivers. According to NEMA, the slaughter house operators were given months to comply with orders to clean up their business, but failed to act.

On their part, workers, business people and other operators at the Dagoretti abattoir say they have no capacity to clean up the environment by themselves, and that the government should ensure proper disposal of waste. For majority of workers, incomes from the slaughter house are barely enough to feed their families and additional requirements by NEMA will put further strains on their finances.

The Dagoretti slaughter house is meant to supply meat, but a secondary industry has developed where every animal part is turned into a tradable commodity. There are people waiting to collect bones, intestines, hooves, heads and skins.

Hooves, heads and intestines are used to make cheap stews for the residents of Nairobi’s slums. Even the tiny shreds of meat to be found on animal skins are scrapped out by the poorest of the poor and used to supplement their very basic meals. For these people, environmental concerns are not a priority compared to the need to survive.

Unfortunately, these people on the edges of starvation, are the biggest losers in NEMA’s battle with meat industry big shots.

NSSF staff angry over wasteful computerization

As Kenya finally starts to embrace e-government, officials at the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) seem to have discovered a new loophole for siphoning pension funds by over-doing computer projects.

Social Security House, completed in 1994.

Social Security House, completed in 1994.

The NSSF has spent hundreds of millions on computer servers, hardware and software upgrades with little to show for it. In many cases, information technology (IT) projects are scrapped soon after they are implemented and quickly replaced with other projects without any consideration for costs.

A couple of weeks ago, the NSSF launched its service charter which was, among other things, to commemorate the re-birth of the organization in terms of accountability and customer-friendliness. Concerned employees of the NSSF say the uncovering of a fresh scandal could frustrate their efforts at reforms.

“In 2005 NSSF bought 28 HP servers that were delivered directly to selected branches, bypassing the procurement office,” an NSSF staffer told the Nairobi Chronicle, “one year later the servers were recalled to Nairobi to have software installed. It was then realized that a hardware upgrade was necessary and this was done at a cost of about Kshs. 1,000,000 (US$15,000). This took about six months. After one and a half years, the servers had not been used.”

According to the employee, whose identity we cannot disclose for obvious reasons, NSSF bought over 30 SUN servers in 2007. “SUN servers are so expensive, they are only manufactured on order; and only very rich companies can afford them,” narrates the whistle-blower.

Soon after delivery it became apparent that the SUN servers could not be used. There was nowhere to install them. They had to be put in racks to wade off suspicion. Some were stacked at the NSSF building in Bruce House, away from preying eyes. They were carried there by NSSF staff in a NSSF lorry and locked in a room on the 13th floor. To this day, it has not been possible to use them. To be able to utilize these equipment; NSSF requires an additional Kshs.50,000,000 to Kshs.100,000,000 ($746,000 – $1.4 million).

Still within the past one year, the NSSF bought and installed internet phones in order to cut down on telephone bills across its national branches. Nothing wrong there, if it wasn’t for the fact that the Fund had already bought 40 PABXs for almost all its branch offices at an average cost of about Kshs350,000 ($5224). Telecommunication experts say the new internet phone system installed by NSSF requires greater manpower, in addition to congesting the computer network. In order to free up network bandwidth, the NSSF has been forced to shift some of its operations away from the network, a decision that defeats the purpose of e-government.

In spite of these irregularities, the purchase of more computer equipment continues at the Fund. Concerned employees are considering blowing the whistle to the media and to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority before the scandal brings down the giant organization.

NSSF made news throughout the 1990s for buying land at exorbitant rates from  people close to the government of former president Daniel arap Moi. The NSSF also lost millions of shillings in legal fees to well known lawyers some of whom are serving in the cabinet of President Mwai Kibaki. Being the biggest pension and provident scheme in Kenya, and controlled by the State, NSSF funds are a big temptation to Kenya’s cruel, corrupt ruling elite.

Since the late 1990s, increased competition from private pension schemes has resulted in reforms being undertaken by NSSF management. It became necessary for the fund to sell its holdings in land and buildings in order to conform to regulations of the Retirement Benefits Authority. NSSF has also intensified its efforts at recruiting new contributors and today encourages the self-employed to join through a flexible payments program.

Unlike in the past, NSSF invests in government bonds, treasury bills and shares at the Nairobi Stock Exchange. NSSF is a significant shareholder in such companies as National Bank, Kenya Power & Lighting, East African Portland Cement, among other big corporations of Kenya.

Through its reform programme, the NSSF has gained financial stability, enabling it to pay retirees on time. However, fresh revelations of improprieties concerning the purchase of computer equipment are bound to frustrate the reform efforts of the new millennium. Just goes to prove the famous saying that old habits die hard.

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