Tuesday, September 25th, 2018
On Monday, pupils in my school were given the following rubric to write a composition: “I had seen it happen from the beginning to the end. So when the head teacher called me into his office.…”
The instructions required pupils to complete the story, making it as interesting as they could. However, the scenes narrated by the pupils were scary.
Buoyed by the recent incidents of arson in schools, they could not think of a better storyline than being summoned to the head teacher’s office as culprits. The entire class took off from the rubric and violently narrated how their colleagues meticulously plotted to raze dormitories and other infrastructure.
The intricacy of weaving award-winning violent essays with such ingenuity shocked me. After marking the scripts, I found myself wondering, why are we raising such a violent generation?
The Ministry of Education discourages violent storylines, narcotic-infested themes and such negative ‘creativity’. But learners, in their quest to make their essays interesting, fall into the temptation of violent scenes. Such a narration is severely penalised by denying the writer marks.
According to the young writers, violence thrills. It is also therapeutic. With bottled-up anger and other negative emotions, writing violently heals their minds.
Our media are awash with news of violence. A few months ago, hardly a day would pass without reports of fire outbreaks in schools. It is no longer surprising to hear of a school that has been burnt down by unruly students.
Students are ever waiting for the slightest provocation from the administration to raze their schools. But some of the reasons advanced by them are petty.
Burning down seven dormitories because the school administration has denied the students permission to watch a football match is not only petty but foolhardy. I am not saying that the students should not watch football matches. No, far from it. But burning seven school dormitories is just unthinkable.
What makes our students react so angrily to the slightest provocation? The environment in which they interact is full of violence. When politicians want to register displeasure with one another, they result to violence. Matatu crews and lawyers, too.
When the students’ closest friends — teachers — want to engage their employer, they always result to violence.
The only way to be heard, or so it seems, is by expressing one’s anger through violent means. But violence breeds violence. If you sow a seed of violence, you will abundantly reap violence.
For our students to result to violence, they must have copied from adults. As long as we set a bad example, we should be prepared to bear the heavy cost of burnt school facilities.
Ashford Gikunda, English and literature teacher, Kiambu.
At 19, I have seen far too many many futures stolen by teenage pregnancies.
Girls younger than me drop out of school and are coerced into teenage marriages every day after they became pregnant by mistake. Many more die as they at-tempt to hide their shame by seeking unsafe abortions.
This is because, throughout Kenya, teenagers like me are denied access to sexual and reproductive health information and services. We are nearly six million strong, with teenagers accounting for more than 10 per cent of the population.
At clinics, we are often told that we are too young to need contraceptives or that the services are not available. At school, we’re not taught about safe sex or the basics of fertility. At home, the topic is taboo.
Myths and misconceptions are our only consistent source of information. We are forced to watch our pregnant peers being shamed as they are paraded through the halls of school and then beaten and expelled.
Adulthood isn’t any better. Only 44.8 per cent of Kenyan women who want to de-lay or prevent pregnancy are using a modern contraceptive method. Last year alone, over a million pregnancies were unintended.
Unplanned pregnancies rob girls of their youth and education, undermine opportunities for employment, exacerbate poverty and perpetuate gender inequities.
Between July 2016 and June last year, nearly 400,000 girls aged 10 to 19 became pregnant in Kenya. Suppose they had finished school and got jobs?
Give us the chance to choose smaller families that we can support. Give us a chance to contribute to socio-economic development of our country.
With approximately three million young women in my generation, changing the trajectory of our lives can affect the entire nation.
Around the world today, youth are calling for greater access to family planning.
Some of us are hosting events in our home countries in recognition of World Contraception Day while others are preparing to travel to Kigali, Rwanda, in November for the 2018 International Conference on Family Planning.
But we know that nothing will change for our futures or those of our home countries if we relegate these conversations to isolated events and conferences held at a safe distance. We need you to join us in making an investment in our shared future.
If you are a parent, consider the opportunities your daughter might have if you gave her your blessing to use contraceptives and taught her how they work.
If a healthcare provider, imagine how many lives you can change by giving counselling and related services to youth. If an educator, think about the heights your students can reach if you gave them the knowledge to make informed decisions about when to start a family.
And if you are a politician or community leader, consider what my generation can do for our country if you supported our access to family planning.
Last year, Kenya committed to increase health facilities offering youth-friendly services to 50 per cent from 10 per cent by 2025. It’s time promises were turned into action.
Sexually active teenagers and young adults are physically capable of getting pregnant — that’s basic reproductive science. How will you support them? Your answer, and actions, will determine our future.
Ms Aluoch, a programme officer at Women Promotion Centre, is the host of a World Contraception Day event, ‘The Silenced Speak Out: Amplifying Young Women’s Voices in SRHR Advocacy’, in Nairobi today as a satellite event for the International Conference on Family Planning. www.fpconference.com/2018.
As I reflect on the recent tax increases and the controversies that have come up in the wake of the Finance Act, I am left with the distinct feeling that we are no longer the country where the interests of the private sector — individuals and companies who bake the national cake from where the taxes are collected — are held in high regard by policymakers.
It seems to me that we are going back to the days of oppressive taxation.
We chose the private sector-led development model, where tax policy was designed to support private sector productivity and recognise the segments of the economy which work and produce.
TAX AND SPEND
The shift may be slow and subtle. But it seems that the policy has been reduced to tax and spend: You tax the private sector as much as possible and give the money to the State to spend it as it chooses, even when most of that money is going to be spent on projects of no economic viability.
The government is under the illusion that by imposing higher taxes you collect more revenues; that by enriching the State you enrich the citizen.
Our policymakers still cherish the illusion that the private sector can be milked to an indefinite extent without negatively affecting economic activity in the macro economy.
But the recent increases in VAT on petroleum products and excise duty on hundreds of other goods and services across a broad range of sectors have displayed a more ominous mindset among those who design Kenya’s tax policy.
If you look closely at the range and scope of tax increases in the Finance Act, you get the impression that the taxes have been introduced by people who believe the State has the first claim to everyone’s income and that what you remain with after being taxed is just a gift out of its generosity.
Worse, the new regime of oppressive taxes is being introduced at a time when the private sector is not in good health. Corporate profits have basically flat-lined in the past five years. We might not readily admit it but we have gone through a crisis.
The upshot is a major slowdown in private sector investment as reflected in a slowdown in the uptake of commercial bank credit, an increasing number of retrenchments, frequent profit warnings by listed companies and a drastic fall in electricity consumption by industries.
The reason we do not discuss the problem of stagnant corporate profits is that policymakers do not respond to problems of the private sector promptly.
Despite the fact that even blue chip companies are struggling, the elite are obsessed with Chinese-funded mega infrastructure projects.
You will not hear them talking about policies to help to fire up creation of new businesses or reinvigorate business investment. You will not hear them talking about building strong venture capital companies to support business in new investment and ideas.
Mainly due to the Chinese-funded projects, we now have a situation whereby in excess of 90 per cent of the fixed capital investment in the economy is by the public sector.
We all know that a shilling of private sector investment is more efficient in terms of job creation than hundreds of shillings from the Chinese.
And, because the Chinese contractors are mainly paid by financial institutions based in Beijing, and since the money does not come into this economy, the mega public projects by the Chinese do not inject liquidity into the local system, and thus hamper its flow into the economy.
Which leads me to the subject of the impact of new tax measures on inflation and the level of prices in the economy.
When the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Kenya meets this week, they are, as usual, not likely to paint any concerns on inflationary pressure in the economy — even after the recent introduction of VAT on fuel.
After all, the MPC mainly tracks and obsesses with non-fuel and non-food inflation.
Traditionally, our MPC only gets very concerned whenever there are upsurges in underlying inflation (jargon for inflationary pressures in the economy arising from factors other than increases in prices of food and fuel).
As a consumer, our MPC is no more than an ivory tower with little impact on the pressures in your pocket.
So, when you want to track inflation and assess the impact of the scourge, just look at your last monthly shopping bill at the supermarket for the indispensable staples — bread, milk, health and maize flour and then compare it with what you paid for the same items six months ago.
Track the movement of prices of paraffin, charcoal, matatu fares, bread, clothing and house rent and you have a clear picture of the damage inflation is doing to the pockets of the ordinary men and women in this country.
The chaotic scenes in the National Assembly on Thursday were a reflection of the strident lamentations of Kenyans over the high cost of living.
With a gaping shortfall of Sh500 billion to finance a Sh3 trillion Budget, one can understand the government’s predicament in balancing the pressure placed on the taxpayer against the necessity to meet its obligations.
In such complex times, it helps to step back and look through our collective actions as a nation, reflect on what we have done well, where we have had challenges and where we could do better.
This would lead to identification of new opportunities where consensus is built to replicate and scale our efforts, resulting in better outcomes for both the taxpayer and tax collector.
While this austere economic environment demands greater fiscal discipline by all Kenyans, it also affords us the opportunity to be creative to transform our nation’s fortunes. One such often-overlooked opportunity is improved public services.
A case in point is the Huduma centres.
Launched in November 2013 under then Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru, now Governor of Kirinyaga County, the centres were conceived under the Huduma programme.
One of the Vision 2030 flagship projects, the programme sought to improve government services by providing one-stop-shop style offices where the public could readily access several services empowered by an integrated information and communication technology (ICT) platform. Riding on the crest of devolution, the centres were deployed in every county.
Studies show Huduma centres helped Kenyans to save money and improved revenue collection for the government.
A 2015 Huduma Kenya study, ‘Cost Benefit Analysis to Citizens’, found that the government’s return on investment for Sh3 billion spend had outweighed the cost factor by four. Moreover, citizens saved an impressive Sh9 billion as a result of this basic reform in public sector.
The breakdown of this saving was pegged down to righting wrongs and creating efficiency in service delivery. Specifically, cutting bribery channels, eliminating time lost in travel to Nairobi for services and unnecessary man hours spent queuing for services at congested government offices.
The net effect of this inconvenience cost Kenyans an estimated Sh845 million annually in acquiring birth certificates, Sh747 million for stamp duty assessment charges and Sh9 billion in getting identity cards.
The Huduma Programme has, indeed, yielded far greater returns for the national economy. Obvious and tangible benefits include ease of doing business, which has significantly increased formalisation of several businesses as legal entities, potentially enhancing their chances of accessing credit, growing output, creating jobs and widening the tax base.
Furthermore, Huduma Centres have helped to streamline other government revenue collection bodies and disbursement institutions such as the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb), whose ripple effect has an exponential impact on virtually every sector of the economy.
The centres collect about Sh12 billion while saving every Kenyan Sh3,060 in transport, time and the trouble of seeking government services. This is a strong indication that there is room to explore the under-stated value of public sector re-form.
County governments are best-placed to harness the power of the Huduma success. With support from the national government, they must be encouraged to replicate the Huduma model in their devolved sectors.
Consolidating their services under one roof and leveraging on the transparency and accountability of ICT can save costs for ‘Wanjiku’ as the government builds sustainable revenue collection mechanisms to finance development.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The Huduma centres model provides food for thought on what more we can do to bridge the gap between government priorities and the citizens’ earnest pursuit for better pay and lower costs of living.
The most recent ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking by the World Bank placed Kenya at a commendable 80th out of 190 nations worldwide. Further public sector re-forms can easily get us to the coveted top 50. The report rightly cites acquisition of land and property and construction as being in dire need of reform.
Streamlining government systems so that services become more accessible to the public while holding the institutions and office holders accountable and eliminating channels for bribery and extortion by cartels will improve revenue collection and boost efficiency while helping the citizenry to save money.
There is a group of girls and women in Kenya who go through all manner of abuse and stigma with little help. They get violated, abused and stripped of their dignity by the society — including by those close to them.
There are innumerable cases of women and girls, and boys, with mental disabilities who have been subjected to sexual abuse but cannot access justice due to all manner of obstacles and crazy court rulings.
Some of these victims of sexual violence have had cases against their attackers taken to court either by relatives or organisations on their behalf but, for some reason, justice has been long in coming.
A key reason that mentally challenged women and girls have had difficulties in getting justice is their disability, the very attribute of which they are attacked in the first place.
Never mind that we still have outdated laws and policies that are not only insensitive but also derogatory in addressing sexual and gender violence visited on such women and girls.
Delays in prosecuting such cases have been clear.
The Coalition on Violence Against Women (Covaw), which has a programme to help women, girls as well as boys with mental disabilities who fall victim of sexual violence to access justice, singles out a backlog of DNA results at the Government Chemist as one of the reasons for the delays.
Covaw executive director Wairimu Munyinyi-Wahome cites instances where they have had to take the initiative and prepare witnesses where prosecutors fail to do so, in cases where the organisation holds brief for the victims.
They also encounter lax prosecutors who quote outdated particulars of the law regarding sections of the Sexual Offences Act and the Penal Code in sexual violence cases involving women, girls and even men with mental disabilities.
In Nanyuki, for instance, a woman with mental disabilities was raped by a man said to be a family friend. When the matter went to court, he was charged with “involvement in prostitution with a person with mental disability”. Not rape.
The court allowed Covaw’s application to amend the charge but, two years later, the 40-year-old woman awaits justice.
In Nyeri, a mentally disabled woman was continually raped for a year.
The suspect admitted to impregnating her but was acquitted, with the magistrate arguing that the court was unable to tell whether or not she was a willing participant.
Covaw is seeking a judicial interpretation on whether a person with mental disabilities has the capacity to consent.
But what kind of men are these who target such women and children? Some even conspire to subvert justice by influencing delays in hearings through lengthy adjournments. Others intimidate the victims, including by threatening them and their families.
In Kitui, a disturbing case is still pending. It involves the defiling of a 13-year-old girl with a mental disability, reportedly by the head teacher of the special school where she was a pupil. The child has since given birth from this rape but her at-tacker has denied the two charges of defilement and indecent assault.
ASSAULT IN SCHOOL
The 2016 case is still active. In court, a number of parents came out to complain to Covaw officials that their handicapped daughters had also been sexually assaulted at the school. They were advised to report the matter to police.
In Nyeri, a case was filed of a mentally challenged minor who was defiled and impregnated by a neighbour.
The suspect had attempted to use his connections with an administrator to have the matter hushed up. An arrest warrant was placed on him. Then 16, she has since given birth.
At the Makadara courts in Nairobi, a case involving rape of a young man with mental disability is still at the hearing stage since 2014. In Nyahururu, another that involves a gang-rape of a 13-year-old has been before court since 2015.
There are many others in Kiambu, Nyeri, Milimani and Kibera.
Many cases involving sexual assault against this category of Kenyans are pending in court, yet society seems to either turn a blind eye or simply leave the victims to their own devices.
Mentally unstable individuals require special attention and care more than the ‘normal’ ones are giving them.
The Judiciary should vacate the lacklustre attitude they have exhibited for years and do what they ought to for society — protect the most vulnerable. Our courts are, rightly, the last line of defence against injustice. They ought to live up to that.
The Senate has made a symbolic move to convene its session out of Nairobi in what is billed as an attempt at connecting with the counties that it serves. Symbolic it is because it gives the physical feeling that senators are ready to work with and for the institutions — counties — that they have been elected to serve. It also gives the sense of being accessible to the people. As to the effectiveness of the move, the jury is still out.
Even so, we must ask if this is better use of the citizens’ money. Having the full House out there with all the support staff is quite an expense. At a time of belt tightening, this runs contrary to the common desire of cutting public expenditure. Unnecessary travel cannot be countenanced.
In their inaugural session, the focus has been on the revised national Budget that has slashed allocations for counties by Sh9 billion, with the concern being that it is a big let-down to the counties, which will have to cut their expenditure accordingly and which, ultimately, translates to poor service delivery to the citizens. The recent budget cuts have been as controversial as they have been emotive. But the signal from the senators is that we have not heard the last of it. That is a subject for another debate.
For now, the spotlight is on the Senate’s out-of-Nairobi sittings; in particular, the inherent practical value. Working close to the people can be justified on the basis that it gives the senators first-hand experience of what happens at the counties. Even so, that is debatable. Since they represent the counties, the requirement is that they visit their respective regions all the time and, hence, should have a clear understanding of the goings-on there. They do not need to convene a sitting at a county headquarters to understand what’s happening or to connect to the people. The National Assembly, for instance, cannot purport to hold sessions in the constituencies to get a feel what happens there.
For Kenyans, what really matters is the subject and quality of discussions during the sittings; the Bills they pass and the effectiveness of their oversight role. Not where they sit. So, we ask, what would be the difference between sitting out there and holding sessions in the Senate? Will the senators debate any better?
Ordinarily, the Senate grapples with the question of relevance in the legislative set-up. Other than Bills on counties, hardly does it originate laws, which is the function of the National Assembly. It has the burden to prove that it has value in the governance typology, which is why all its activities are thoroughly scrutinised.
We are not convinced that sitting out of Nairobi is beneficial. Senators must give a proper account of themselves.