KILL THIS RELIC OF OLD ORDER

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Kill this relic of old order

Figures hardly lie.

India, with 1.237 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of Sh160 trillion, has 251 state corporations, known locally as PSUs (public sector undertakings).

 

South Africa, a Sh33.4 trillion economy, has just twelve parastatals. Australia, with a Sh132-billion GDP, has 13 “government business enterprises” although various states have their own.

Our Great Kenya, just a Sh3 trillion economy (a tenth of South Africa’s), has an inconceivable 262 parastatals.

Implicitly, either Kenya has the highest number of state agencies or is among the few countries in the world weighed down by this unenviable label. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock alone boasts 100 plus parastatals!

Yet it is hardly accidental this country finds itself in this undesirable state. It is deliberate, by design.

The new Constitution has devolved activities hitherto performed by the agencies; so why is the government hanging on them? Are taxpayers ready to continue bankrolling the likes of Kenya Urban Roads Authority, Kenya Rural Roads Authority, Kenya Meat Commission (KMC), Vision 2030, and Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA)?

How will KEMSA coerce county governments to buy its drugs? Should Garissa cattle farmers transport their produce to Athi River? Hardly.

Granted, we need parastatals. But they have to be relevant – not a burden to the taxpayer. Almost all of Kenya’s 262 state agencies are needless. In fact, the Mohamed Abdikadir (former MP, Mandera Central) team on parastatal reform recommended that 70 per cent (almost three in every five) parastatals should go. Sadly, little, if anything, is being done towards achieving this.

(Even 89 is still unbelievably huge number)

The more the merrier – state corporations are avenues for official malfeasance. Indeed, a 1979 presidential commission report declared parastatals “a serious threat to the economy” owing to their drain on State kitty.

It is obvious that some powerful people in positions of decision-making are comfortable with the status quo – 262 state corporations. The national government, it would appear, is trying hard to hang on everything possible to re-invent and rebuilt the old order while giving an impression that it is adhering to the new Constitution.

It is reinforcing the old order the Constitution seeks to dismantle. Indeed, the 2010 Supreme law re-ordered, re-engineered, restructured the State.

What do we make of this?

Mandarins want to continue eating, so to speak. This is so because the agencies have been the hub of corruption; avenues of political reward.

Those we elected and their cronies are falling over themselves to resuscitate the old system of patronage. For them, it’s now “Our Turn to Eat”. They want to recoup all they spent in the last General Election. And they are looking beyond – 2017.

It is hardly a secret that State agencies are the conduits for the transfer of taxpayers’ money to the bottomless pockets of bureaucrats and power barons. Indeed, the long portfolio of parastatals is very enticing to mandarins whose livelihoods may have been cut short by a new Constitution that closes most avenues for official corruption.

They are aware the country lacks an inventory of the assets of all the parastatals. The database should have been built long before the transition (from the old to the new Constitution) but it wasn’t done. Now, the assets are up for grabs!

No wonder these quasi-statutory agencies are at the centre of the strained relations between national and county governments. The two governments are engaged in fierce scramble for their functions.

The national government doesn’t seem enthusiastic to let go of the cash cow.

We now need to close this relic of the old system. Indeed, something has to be done; quickly.

We are asking for far-reaching restructure of state corporations. A detailed plan on how the State intends to close this corruption conduit is overdue.

Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister (1979-1990) did it; privatized most state corporations. In her memoirs, she said privatisation was “fundamental to improving Britain’s economic performance”.

“Just as nationalisation was at the heart of the collectivist programme by which Labour governments sought to remodel British society, so privatisation is at the centre of any programme of reclaiming territory for freedom.”

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