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Saturday, September 15th, 2018

 

Corruption denying President Mutharika the legacy he desperately needs

Malawi President Peter Mutharika

By Patseni Mauka

On Thursday, 13th September, Malawi President Peter Mutharika officially opened the Aida Chilembwe Community Technical College. The college is one of the community technical colleges being built in the country as one of the electoral promises of Mutharika and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). One of the few things that Peter Mutharika passionately talked about in the run up to the 2014 general elections was the construction of technical colleges. Even now, DPP apologists are calling the technical colleges ‘the DPP flagship project’.

According to reports, Aida Chilembwe Community Technical College has been constructed to the tune of 446 million Kwacha. Knowing the rampant corruption in the construction industry, the actual figure should be much lower with some millions of Kwachas lost in the process. When I saw the 446 million Kwacha figure, I immediately remembered a similar figure being mentioned recently.

Earlier this year, the country learnt with shock that DPP and Mutharika benefited from a Malawi Police Service fraudulent procurement deal. The party pocketed K145 million in a procurement scandal masterminded by some senior police officers that defrauded the taxpayers of K466 million in a ration racket of over K2 billion through a fraudulent contract the police entered into with businessman Zameer Karim trading under a company called Pioneer Investments. The Police paid him an extra K466 million on the contract without following procedures. Out of this money, Karim paid K145 million to DPP through an account which President Peter Mutharika is a sole signatory.

Most of the times, when figures like 466 million Kwacha are mentioned in corruption scandals, it is not easy for some people to visualize what such money could have done if it was used properly for the development of the country. The 446 million figure mentioned as being the amount used to construct Aida Chilembwe Community Technical College helps to visualize the magnitude of loss of resources due to corruption. In short, the amount of money lost in the Police scandal could have built another community technical college!

There is one name which is the common denominator in the construction of Aida Chilembwe Community Technical College and the money lost in the Police Scandal. That’s the name of President Peter Mutharika. The same person that is being applauded as being the one who made it possible to build the 446 million Kwacha technical college is the same person mentioned in the loss of 466 million Kwacha in the Police scandal.

The significance of this can not be overemphasized. By being involved in the misappropriation of taxpayers money, Mutharika is denying the country the same things that he ‘passionately’ wants the country to have. He is also denying himself the legacy that he desperately needs.

At the official opening of Aida Chilembwe Technical College, Mutharika said by December this year, all districts in Malawi will have technical colleges. This would have been good news had it been that the colleges opened so far were built to high quality standards, with good equipment and constant flow of funds for managing them.

The stories so far are disappointing. Earlier this year the nation newspaper reported that inadequate funding had slowed down the push to provide quality training in the community technical colleges. The newspaper reported that Ngara Community Technical College in Karonga, where Mutharika officially launched the skills development initiative in March 2015, is one of the affected colleges.

It further reported that during a tour, Ngara Community College Principal Green Nyirongo said inadequate funding force instructors to contribute money for the running of the institution, especially settling utility bills. Can you believe that? The billions of Kwachas being lost to corruption could have gone a long way to make the community colleges successful. It’s unfortunate that the same leader who want’s to develop the country is presiding over unprecedented corruption in the country.

The community colleges are a good initiative which, if implemented correctly, would indeed help in improving skills for the youth. However, with current implementation strategy, the students will come out half-baked or worse still without any improvement whatsoever.

It seems, the DPP government is just interested in numbers. “We have built community colleges in every district as promised and many students have already graduated, here are the photos, DPP woyee!” Poorly equipped colleges, lack of highly trained instructors and perekani perekani type of funding means that the students graduating from these colleges can only manage kuperekera matope during brick making. This project, as being implemented now, is a failure.

In the remaining eight months of his Presidency, Muthakira and DPP should  stop concentrating on benefiting from proceeds of fraudulent deals and get back to the work of fulfilling the many promises they made in 2014. The billions lost so far have denied Malawi the necessary development that would enable it move away from the status of being one of the poorest countries in the world.

Opinions expressed in this article are not those of the editor nor the maravipost

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Is Uhuru doing too little too late to salvage his legacy?

By ISAAC AMUKE
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Following the swearing-in of Uhuru Kenyatta as President in 2013, there was a sense, especially within the middle class — including those who didn’t vote for him — that maybe he deserved to be given, albeit grudgingly, the benefit of the doubt.

His had been a glitzy campaign, anchored on the ‘I will make Kenya the land of milk and honey’ narrative.

It wasn’t hard for sceptics to be persuaded by Uhuru’s ostentatious messaging. Aside from other considerations, the fact that Uhuru contemplated pulling out of the race, then quickly turned around and blamed demons for the move before re-entering the fray, was indicative of the sort of laissez faire approach he had toward the whole affair, as if he really didn’t want to be President.

There was even a sense that there existed a hidden hand urging him on, such that the presidency was more meaningful and attractive to others than it was to him.

But then he became President — including to those who didn’t vote for him — and this changed everything.

REDEMPTIVE BEHAVIOUR

It may sound like an oxymoron to suggest that even those who had little time for the man thought of giving him a chance, but the reality of politics is that once someone lifts the Bible, the Quran or their right hand — depending on one’s spiritual affiliation or lack thereof — and takes the oath of office, then whether you like them or not counts for little.

You may rant and rave, but you will be stuck with them barring unforeseen happenings like death, resignation or impeachment.

In a lot of instances, leaders who feel sizeable sections of the population don’t believe in their stewardship — but have nonetheless given them the benefit of the doubt — usually go on a charm offensive, engaging in redemptive behaviour partly to disprove critics.

For Uhuru Kenyatta, this happened in 2015, when he delivered his most outstanding State of the Nation address to date.

CORRUPTION

By drawing a bold line in the sand against corruption — an act which resulted in the stepping aside of suspected complicit Cabinet Secretaries — the President had for the first time sent a strong signal to both devotees and doubting Thomases that he indeed meant business.

On the same address, he spoke of restitution as regards select historical injustices, things which Kenyans yearned for but which previously seemed out of the President’s depth and comfort.

It was all bold and new, signalling a surprise ideological shift in Uhuru, from someone pundits opined wanted to be President for its own sake to one who seemed to have a tangible programme for Kenya.

It appeared like his presidency was finally finding its footing, causing naysayers to sit up.

Yet for some strange reason, the goodwill accrued from that State of the Nation address was left to go to waste.

FINAL TERM

The President was back to his lacklustre modus operandi, unable to sustain the anti-corruption purge for the remainder of his maiden term.

To his detractors, this was because of Uhuru’s original shortcoming, that of not being solidly fit for office in the first place.

Then the 2017 general election happened. Fortified by a fresh mandate to govern, Uhuru acquired a humongous sense of urgency, as if someone had lit a fire under his feet.

It now appeared that the single most important word to the President was legacy, which he was out to secure by all means — including throwing non-co-operative family and friends under the bus.

This new rule book has left many wondering whether the President was unaware in 2013 that he would be judged from the moment he lifted the Bible, many contending that if he’s not careful, Uhuru may spend his entire second term attempting to undo the harm caused during his first.

TIME CONSTRAINT

The new Uhuru Kenyatta seems like a man in a hurry, wanting anything and everything done in a huff.

However, the fact that he didn’t carry over momentum from his initial term means he has to manufacture it afresh, a prospect which might leave him worn out, having to multitask — including retrospectively — to disentangle from the past before moving forward.

This state of haste and exigency will expose him to errors and misjudgement, compounding the unflattering perceptions emanating from his previous term.

He may consequently feel like he is doing too little too late, weighed down by cumulative baggage, resulting in despair and anxiety.

In the final analysis, it is fair to say that Uhuru Kenyatta brought these pressures on himself — by not comprehensively exploiting the reason of the doubt extended his way starting in 2013.

Nevertheless, these insufficiencies notwithstanding, and seeing that he is on a high-powered self-redemption streak, there may be a remote possibility that Uhuru could earn himself a fresh dose of the reason of the doubt, which hopefully, he won’t squander a second time.


Police reforms must ensure trust, human rights and service delivery

By DEMAS KIPRONO
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President Uhuru Kenyatta this week announced changes to the National Police Service to increase accountability, discipline and effectiveness.

He specifically stated that he wanted to transform the police from a “force” that was feared to a service that is respected by the people by promoting trust, professionalism and synergies to transform service delivery.

A key change involved placing Administration and Regular police, among other units, under one command. Initially, there have been parallel commanders at various levels.

For accountability to be realised, commanding officers must be held responsible for the orders they have given or failed to give, as well as for the planning and preparation of policing operations.

PUBLIC ORDER

They are responsible for defining an operational framework that ensures officers resort to the use of force and firearms in a lawful and human-rights-compliant manner. The expectation is that now, “the buck stops somewhere identifiable”.

If command responsibility is followed through, then cases of police brutality, excessive use of force, unlawful killings and abuse of power will radically reduce.

The police are the most visible manifestation and the embodiment of civil authority of government.

Unlike other civil servants who you only get to see when you specifically require their services, we often interact with officers.

They are responsible for maintaining public order and safety, enforcing the law, and preventing, detecting, and investigating criminal activities and enforce court orders.

POLICE STRUCTURE

The police is a vital cog in the criminal justice system. They are responsible for crime detection and investigations which, if done well, lead to successful prosecution, judgment, punishment and rehabilitation.

The drafters of the constitution designed a regime that saw the police service headed by an independent IG and his deputies; with the entire service being employed by an independent NPSC; and finally, with Ipoa providing civilian oversight of the service and its actions.

Since most of the structural changes have specific human resource implications such as the appointment of officers to fill in the newly created ranks, the Inspector General and the Ministry of Interior must work closely with the National Police Service Commission, which is the only body mandated to recruit and appoint persons to hold or act in offices in the service, confirm appointments, and determine promotions and transfers within the National Police Service; and, in observing due process, exercise disciplinary control over and remove persons holding or acting in offices within the service.

This mandate cannot be wished away during this restructuring process.

Human resource management entails ensuring professionalism, transparency, merit and competence in all decisions made regarding any employee.

Therefore, the Commission must follow the law and regulations in the rollout of this restructuring strategy.

The national government should remember that in February 2015, the only amendment touching on police that was declared unconstitutional by the High Court in the infamous Security Laws Amendment petition was the provision which sought to set up a new body called the National Police Service Disciplinary Board – which was found to be an illegal attempt to usurp the NPSC constitutional power to discipline.

Seeing that the police restructuring has already been challenged in court by activist Okiya Omtatah, the government needs to ensure that all constitutional and statutory requirements are adhered to.


To revive local manufacturing, first outlaw counterfeit imports

By GITAU WARIGI
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The menace of uncontrolled imports and counterfeits came to me first-hand when I recently visited a relative in Limuru and, as he narrated how life in the town had changed for the worse, he informed me that the Bata Shoe Company was no longer what it once was.

The factory has drastically downsized under the glut of cheap imports from Asia.

To survive, it has been forced to import brands from markets where costs are lower, to do rebranding, and to mass retail shoes as its smaller competitors do.

Limuru was once synonymous with shoe manufacturing. And the Bata Shoe Company was the iconic entity of the town.

Kenyans of a certain age can remember the first pair of shoes they wore were most probably Bata; tough, sturdy shoes which were designed not always for aesthetic beauty but for their durability and friendliness to the pocket. Products like Safari Boots were then a household name.

Bata has been hit hard by cheap imports, many of them contraband. It is a no brainer that Kenyans will go for cost, rarely quality.

BUSINESSES KILLED

The imports were getting cheaper and cheaper, as they flooded the market from places in Asia.

Meanwhile, the costs associated with production and doing honest business were hurting Bata: cost of raw materials, rising wages, high taxes and maintaining a nationwide network of agents and distributors.

Too bad the importers had comparatively less capital costs, and could thus easily undercut Bata.

The story of the collapse of our manufacturing industries is a familiar one of cheap unregulated imports, mostly from China.

The trend started in the 1980s, accelerating in the 1990s and 2000s to date. This has affected familiar companies which were powerhouses in their day.

One of the victims was Firestone, the biggest local tyre manufacturer of the 1980s and 1990s. It was forced to close shop by the same scourge of cheap Asian imports.

JOB LOSSES

Now it is in the same survival game of importing from cheap manufacturing countries and retailing those tyres like its competitors.

The Firestone factory in Nairobi faced the additional misfortune of huge electricity bills, which cut its margins to uncompetitive levels.

A similar fate affected its sister company Eveready, a maker of battery cells whose Nakuru factory shut its doors some years back, unable to cope with a flood of cheap battery cells from abroad.

A pity, because thousands of employees have lost their jobs with these factory closures. Their dependants have of course suffered too.

To revive our manufacturing base, counterfeits must be outlawed. So must the corrupt importation of untaxed contraband goods.

There is no other way President Uhuru Kenyatta will achieve his Agenda Four goal of reviving manufacturing.

When the government’s quality control officials allow in counterfeit goods, they are directly dealing a body blow to local manufacturers.

The cost of electricity must also come down. It is a miracle the cement manufacturers of Athi River are still in business when power has become so expensive.

To stay afloat, they have resorted to raising the price of cement to levels the consumer finds prohibitive.

PRODUCTION COST

Does the government expect its other Agenda Four objective – affordable housing – will be achievable when the cost of construction materials has gone through the roof?

Once upon a time, Thika used to be referred to as “the Birmingham of Kenya” because of its industries and vehicle assembly plants. It took a bad beating in the 1980s and 1990s, too.

It is only now starting to revive, with new vehicle plants, edible oils production (Bidco), and chemicals to add to its traditional food processing mainstay spearheaded by the Del Monte company.

But the recovery is fragile, and threatened by uncontrolled imports of edible oils which are hurting Bidco.

Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret were all hit hard by the downturn in manufacturing as our economy went into a tailspin.

To breathe new life into collapsed industries, the government must take the right and obvious measures.

Cut corruption and the costs of our bloated government. It would be ideal if we could shrink the governance structures that greatly burden the country, but you can rest assured the assorted fat cats who live off the government like ticks will fight tooth and nail against this.

Yet with the heavy burden of debt bearing down on us, we must streamline.

The embattled Nairobi County Assembly Speaker Beatrice Elachi revealed a window of the waste and extravagance in public bodies when she said that she had some medical condition that makes her fly only First Class.

Medical condition my foot! And why should MPs and MCAs even fly Business Class? I am told US ambassadors fly Economy, and they represent a much richer country.

We are a country where the priority is to finance the extravagant lifestyles of officialdom.


Why we all must fight graft monster

By DOMINIC WAMUGUNDA
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There is a Kenyan musician who came up with a number of very original hits some years ago. His name is Eric Wainaina.

One of those tunes, which I think was some kind of a prophesy given the times we are living in, went something like this: “Nchi ya kitu kidogo, ni inch ya watu wadogo…….” Translated into English this would mean: “A land of bribes is a land of ‘small’ people.”

This was in respect to the many public servants such as policemen and government officials who would not give services until they were given ‘something small’, which could mean money or other gifts.

It must all have started somewhere but sooner or later it became an accepted culture.

Eric Wainaina’s comment was spot on because around the time he was making it, the official establishment would never think of fighting this culture and in some instances actually aided and abetted it.

MEGA SCANDALS

The interesting thing, however, is that these days this culture has evolved from ‘kitu kidogo’ to big things. From what we hear, it has propelled itself to the point where people now talk about billions. Billions can certainly not be termed as something small.

Of course, Wainaina was using the popular talk of the time, when all we talked about was police officers and clerks in government offices who were quite happy to receive a few hundred shillings or even less to give the services they were employed to give.

Figuratively, this obviously meant that whole culture of corruption. Today, the government — or at least the President — has said loudly and clearly that this culture must be fought.

It is within the knowledge of those who understand the concept culture well that establishing one and the mindset that goes with it does not take as much effort as it would take to undo that culture.

The most fundamental issue here is that whether we are talking about a few hundred shillings or a number of billions, the people who practise this culture are a dehumanised lot.

It, in fact, does not matter whether they are educated, rich, in political power and so on. They are people of small minds.

They are small people because this whole behaviour pattern goes with disrespect for self, disrespect for others and for that which belongs to all. That is why I insist that Wainaina’s was a prophecy.

We have now come to the realisation that we shall remain people of small minds if we do not do something about this culture. It will be a tough job but if all in the Executive, the Legislature and Judiciary take it seriously, we just might get somewhere.


Bow and arrow should be banned in Rift Valley

By OTIENO OTIENO
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Kenya has found it extremely difficult to control its perennial ethnic resource-based conflicts, especially in the Rift Valley and the arid North.

The latest ethnic clashes in Narok and Nakuru counties involving members of the Maasai, the Kipsigis and the Ogiek communities have been attributed to ongoing evictions from Mau forestland.

The fairly complex issues around age-old feuds, cultural practices, land use and politics at the centre of the ethnic flare-ups in the Rift Valley and northern Kenya require long-term solutions.

But the authorities can at least start by finding a way in law enforcement to limit the damage whenever the violence breaks out and stop the villages from turning into war zones for days or weeks.

GRIM PICTURE

In both Narok and Nakuru, several deaths and injuries, displacement of whole villages and closure of several schools were reported within the first two days of the clashes alone.

TV footage showed houses going up in flames even after large contingents of police officers had been deployed to the flashpoints.

The sheer magnitude of damage and the speed at which it was inflicted suggest a massive mobilisation of warriors for either the initial attacks or the retaliatory ones and availability of weapons to execute raids on short notice.

The grim picture that emerges from the clash-hit villages in Narok and Nakuru is that of ethnic communities living side by side in peacetime but massing warriors, stockpiling bows and arrows and having them trained on each other in readiness for the next attack.

TRIBAL WARRIORS

It mirrors the past clashes in 1992, 1997 and 2007/8 when similar attacks in the same areas and other parts of the Rift Valley led to a much higher number of deaths and uprooted hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Official inquiries into each of the previous episodes of widespread violence in the region documented recruitment of tribal warriors through traditional rites of passage ceremonies and oathing, and the use of bows and arrows as the weapon of choice.

The recurrence of the fighting, with the same old methods, suggests that the pipeline for warriors and flow of weapons remains open.

The standard law enforcement and conflict resolution practice of sending in officers to quell tensions and gathering elders under a tree to proclaim the return of peace isn’t working as well.

WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION

A sustainable solution appears to lie in weakening the ability of these communities to mobilise for war and arm themselves to the teeth.

As part of the fight against terrorism, it is believed that security agencies have enhanced surveillance on madrassas to prevent the possibility of the religious classes being used as recruitment avenues.

Circumcision boot camps in the Rift Valley’s bushes could be put under similar surveillance to ensure they are not producing warriors for raids against neighbours.

As for the bow and arrow, the State should just declare it a weapon of mass destruction in the Rift Valley and ban its ownership there.


Our ‘dream’ of corruption is alive and well

By LUKOYE ATWOLI
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Kenya’s history is replete with instances of very public political “redemptions” in which erstwhile “bad boys” are turned into creatures whiter than snow.

The scenario is very familiar to most of us. A Kenyan steals huge amounts of money or commits a particularly egregious crime, but due to the checks and balances put in place, he is caught and publicly humiliated.

There is a public outcry and hullabaloo, and calls for him to be appropriately punished, and this dominates the headlines for a while.

However, the matter is soon enough tied up in the courts and our collective attention shifts to other more exciting happenings around us.

After a short while, or sooner if there is a political contest on the horizon, the thief resurfaces in a religious setting, and a religious leader welcomes him to the pulpit to address the flock.

BRIBING LEADERS

Sometimes the religious leaders will “anoint” or “baptise” the thief and declare him “delivered” from his previous iniquities.

Unfortunately, the “deliverance” does not include restitution of the stolen wealth, except for relatively modest donations to the religious leader or his establishment.

The congregation cheers the conversion of Saul to Paul, and the new Paul becomes a darling of the people to the extent that they get him elected to represent or lead them.

Quite obviously the thief achieves “redemption” by effectively bribing the religious establishment to cleanse him in public and make him acceptable in the eyes of the public without serious personal sacrifice or pain.

Other clever Kenyans, understanding that this is another potential path to wealth, abandon all pretence at honest work and begin what they call “hustling” in the truest sense of the word.

They are constantly engaged in “looking for deals” that will guarantee their ascent into the ranks of the monied Kenyans.

SUPPORTERS

They know that should they be caught, the path to redemption remains open, and the likelihood of being punished for their crimes is next to zero.

In any case, they are able to pay their way to their own version of justice, which includes the belated “deliverance” and the subsequent stardom that leads to exulted political office – the Kenyan Dream.

These musings were triggered by a picture doing rounds on the internet of a politician accused of heinous crimes kneeling piously before a religious figure who appeared to be performing a “blessing” ritual of some sort.

The next thing we knew he was all over the media seeking absolution, with a pack of supporters taking over the battle for his cleansing and redemption.

It should not surprise anyone that if an election were called for higher office than he already holds, the politician would trump his nearest rival without breaking a sweat.

It should be obvious that this politician is neither the first nor the last Kenyan to walk this path. The Kenyan Dream remains alive and well for the foreseeable future.

Lukoye Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine. [email protected]


Life expectancy up, but poor health will affect many families

By GERRY LOUGHRAN
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British men and women are living longer but spending many of their extra years in ill health.

A report from Public Health England said there had been a notable reduction in heart attacks and strokes as a result of a decrease in smokers from 20 percent of the population in 2005 to just over 15 percent. However, diabetes, obesity, dementia and mental health issues are all on the rise.

Average life expectancy has reached 79 years for men and 83 years for women, but most people can expect only 63 years of good health, meaning they will live poorly for up to a fifth of their lifetime.

Obesity is a leading risk factor. In 2016, one in four adults was obese and the proportion is increasing. Diabetes is a common result of obesity and experts predict that the number of adult diabetics will reach five million by 2035.

Age-related dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, has risen to become the leading cause of death among women and looks set to overtake heart disease as the biggest killer of men.

Hearing loss, sight loss and muscle and joint problems have also gone up among the elderly while in young people, mental health issues, such as depression, now account for a third of ill health.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who chairs the Royal College of GPs (General Practitioners), highlighted “a clear connection between the quality of our patients’ lifestyles and their overall health”.

Welcoming the drop in smoking, she cautioned that “the chances of people developing illnesses like diabetes is still worryingly high and frequently is the result of poor diet and lack of exercise.”

Professor John Newton of Public Health England said, “The challenge now is for the National Health Service to respond to this changing landscape and focus on preventing as well as treating conditions.”

CHILD MIGRANTS

In 1945, Britain was a poor country, economically devastated by five years of war. As part of the recovery effort, the government decided that some children would have better lives abroad.

Accordingly, between 1945 and 1970, approximately 4,000 girls and boys, some as young as three years old, were separated from their families and sent across the British empire, from Australia to Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia.

However, many of the children, in their new homes, were used as forced labour and subjected to sexual and emotional abuse. Some were wrongly told they were orphans, depriving them of their chance of meeting their birth parents.

In 2010, the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, apologised on behalf of the government, and last March, an official inquiry said the surviving 2,000 child migrants should receive financial compensation.

However, the government has failed to act and now more than 100 of the evacuees are suing the government over the abuse they faced.

One of them is John Glynn, who was sent to a Christian institution in Western Australia when he was eight years old.

“I think about that a lot now,” he said. “They took my childhood from me. They took my country from me, my heritage.”

Ambulances on urgent calls sometimes have to park wherever they can, resulting in abusive reactions from some members of the public.

Last year, medics from the West Midlands found a note on their windscreen telling them, “You may be saving lives but don’t park your van in a stupid place and block my drive.”

Happily, not everyone is like that. A crew who had been attending a patient in Faversham returned to find a note on their windscreen which said, “You’re blocking our drive. No worries. Buy a coffee when you can.” Under the windscreen wiper was a £10 (Sh1,300) note.

Said ambulance man Gary Turley, “It was really uplifting and restored our faith in humanity.”

Some British people who go on holiday abroad seem to expect that everything should be exactly as it is back home.

For instance, the tourist company Thomas Cook received this complaint: “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

Other mind-boggling observations: “It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons. I often need to buy things during ‘siesta’ time. This should be banned.”

“We bought Ray Ban glasses for five Euros from a street trader only to find they were fake.”

A visitor to Australia complained that the soup was too thick and strong. It turns out he was eating the gravy.

And finally, two holidaymakers with evident spatial and geographical problems:

“I compared the size of our one-bedroom apartment to our friends’ three-bedroom apartment and ours was significantly smaller.”

“It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It only took the Americans three hours to get home.”


It’s time to take stock of devolution and then chart the way forward

By KWENDO OPANGA
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Among the people who are considering running for the presidency in 2022 are current and former governors.

That is not surprising, for governors run counties; they are in charge of budgets; make policy, managerial and financial decisions that affect millions of Kenyans; and, often, their word is as final as the law.

Put another way, governors, sitting or past, have records and these are in the public domain. Therefore, it should be easy to judge candidates who have been governors when they seek the presidency.

Successful governors — that is, those who have made the lives of their constituents economically better than they found them — should be strong candidates for the presidency.

Per the Constitution, governors can only serve two five-year terms, which explains why some want to climb the political ladder while others, given their proximity to local electorate, are positioning themselves as point men, strategists and consultants for aspirants to the presidency and even gubernatorial seats.

DISTRIBUTION OF RESOURCES

Therefore, as sitting and past governors test the waters of presidential runs, it may be a good time to look at governorship afresh and ask whether the office and holders have been useful in driving the devolution agenda.

Devolution aims to empower the people to participate in making decisions about the management of their resources and to better their lives.

Previously all important decisions were made at the centre. The popular grouse was that these were skewed in favour of certain regions and, therefore, at the expense, and to the detriment, of others, chiefly in terms of allocation of resources and development of public institutions and infrastructure.

The result, so goes the argument, is that some regions have benefited more from State largesse or developed more, while others have lagged behind. And, the argument goes, those areas that have so developed have produced presidents.

Obviously, it has also been argued this is the main reason presidential contests are fiercely fought.

The Council of Governors has always painted devolution as successful and transforming the lives of Kenyans.

SOUR RELATIONS

The narrative that has dominated media from the counties has been about mismanagement of finances and downright theft and this has been grounded in, and been backed by the public auditors.

Governors have not had easy relations with county assemblies and have often scrambled to keep the members on their side lest they be impeached or have their legislative agenda or budgets shelved, delayed or shot down altogether.

And governors have taken flak from President Uhuru Kenyatta who, in his 2016 State of the Nation address, said they had spent public money to build mansions and buy limousines and asked Kenyans to seriously ask themselves if they were feeling and seeing the benefits of devolution.

CORRUPTION

The media have popularised the claim that counties are proof corruption has been devolved.

Can the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which is the second largest party in the land, boast of presiding over the best run counties?

Can the governing Jubilee Party make the same claim? It is a safe bet that counties are bedevilled by the same vices of corruption, mismanagement of public finances, profligate spending and wanton wastage that have run rampant in the national government.

Counties have not been successful in raising their own revenues and are therefore dependent on the national budget.

That means at a time such as this, when the national government is strapped for cash, county governments will be in dire straits or worse, because they too are saddled with debts.

AUDIT REPORT

The idea I espoused at the start that the only political thing about governorship is the appointment by vote because the office is purely administrative is, of course, long dead in the water.

Governors who thought the same soon learned that they must become politicians to deal with county assemblies, senators, MPs and, of course, local and national politics.

But there is no gainsaying the popularity of devolution. Local people point to elected representatives who live close to them, all weather or tarmacked roads, bridges, health centres, stalls at markets, sheds for motorcycle taxis, name it. But good things can be made better.

My observations here are not scientific, so as we head to a decade of devolution, we need an independent study to bring to our attention all the successes and failures of devolution and propose the pivots to ensure success in the future.


How biased computer engineers affect lives

By SAM WAMBUGU
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Have you, or someone you know, ever applied for a loan, a job, travel visa or an admission to a school and were rejected?

Was a computer system blamed for rejecting the application? Did you feel the system was fair or did you wish that you were given a chance to explain yourself?

Millions of people around the world are denied opportunities by computer systems with faulty codes designed to intentionally or inadvertently produce results that lock out some people unfairly.

The computer engineers who stitch together these systems are sometimes influenced by their blind spots, values, desires and biases.

This is a big deal given that computer systems have become the tools of choice for making life-changing decisions about our lives: who to hire for a job, who to lend money to, how much one should pay for health insurance or who to admit to universities.

Computer systems are unmatched in their power to sift through a slew of data and spit out results that would otherwise take human beings ages to analyse.

Thanks to their efficiency, we have become overly dependent on computer systems. We must however not take them as God’s word.

Computer engineers need to be careful not to allow their values and desires tilt the scales in favour of some, and lock out others who merit a service.

The biases could be in form of tribe, race, clan, gender, geography, marital status, income and many others.

Just because there are stereotypes that tag people from a certain region, profession, religion, age or marital status as loan defaulters, or lazy, thieves or violent; systems engineers and data scientists should inoculate themselves from such mindset when crafting systems that so many depend on. Doing so deliberately would be unethical.

Systems are modelled on how people have behaved in the past to predict the future.

For example, if people who fit certain characteristics have in the past defaulted in paying their loans, a computer engineer would code those parameters in the systems so that new loan applicants with these characteristics are labelled “high risk”.

But the past is not always a predictor of the future. People and circumstances change.

When a computerised system unfairly labels someone as a “bad hire”, “risky borrower”, “and potential criminal”, “perennial loser” based on past information of people like them, could be discriminating.

Cathy O’Neil, a bestselling author and a data scientist appropriately refers to biased computer systems as “weapons of math destruction”, because they use mathematical algorithms to ruin lives by placing them in buckets that they don’t belong.

Of course no system can be perfect and that’s why regularly auditing and updating them should be part of a system engineer’s modus operadi.