Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The wives of key leaders don’t need this money


President Kibaki, VP Musyoka and Prime Minister Odinga are no doubt the most pampered public servants in Kenya.

In addition to princely salaries, courtesy of the rest of us ordinary mortals, they enjoy almost unlimited benefits and perks that take care of virtually every earthly need. These include shopping, household, entertainment, holidays, leisure and other personal expenses which really should not be charged on the long-suffering taxpayer – but no audit raises a query.

Now the three wise gentlemen find it fit to extend to their spouses further entitlements in the form of cash infusions from the public coffers for assignments nobody quite understands. I do not begrudge a First Lady and the others – I’m not sure whether they would be Second Lady, Third Lady, or whatever – having their official activities funded by the State. I suppose spouses in such exalted positions do have some public duties that come with having married right or married lucky. There will be dinners and cocktails to host, charitable work to be undertaken, all sorts of official travel and countless activities that come with the territory. Some of those functions might even involve a bit of sprucing up in the wardrobe, hair and facial departments. It would be extremely mean and churlish of us to expect them to dip into their own handbags to finance activities that are undertaken principally in support of the quasi-official roles they play.

It is thus right and proper that – clothes, hairdo and make-up excepted – we, the taxpayers, foot the bill.

It would be entirely wrong, however, to simply throw wads of cash at Mrs Lucy Kibaki, Mrs Ida Odinga and Mrs Pauline Musyoka for them to spend as they wish. Not a single shilling should go into their respective personal bank accounts. Any provisions for spousal expenses should not be paid directly, but drawn from the official budget of the principal spouse who is in Government service. Such expenses as envisaged should not be paid out as salary for no recognisable job done, or as some ex-gratia payment; but operated within public service rules and regulations as applied to public servants authorised to incur expenditure for defined functions or projects. Since the beneficiaries in this case are not even public servants, it follows that they cannot be allowed to sign, draw any cash or sign any expense vouchers. Such tasks would have to be entrusted to staff in the offices of their husbands.

I don’t know where this whole business of paying the far-from-needy spouses of our key leaders came from. I have no idea whether Mama Ngina Kenyatta was ever paid an allowance. It was when President Kibaki came to power that Kenya again had a First Lady and the allowance came into being. One might recall that it was very tactlessly increased just before the General Election of last year – something about an increased workload. During President Kibaki’s first term, the matter of Vice-President Awori’s wife getting an allowance never arose.

From the circulars seen recently from the Head of Public Service Francis Muthaura, one can glean that the payments to the wife of the present Vice-President is an innovation, as is the matching payment to the wife of the Prime Minister. If the way Kenya operates is anything to go by, it might not be long before the wives of Deputy Prime Ministers Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi also start badgering their respective husbands for money from State coffers. Next it will be the turn of every Cabinet minister to be under siege from a determined spouse wanting his or her share of shopping money from the Exchequer.

Then on down to Assistant ministers, PSs, MPs, judges and anybody who is somebody on the public payroll.

Before things start getting out of hand, the easier and faster option might be to simply stop those cash injections to the First Lady and the VP’s and PM’s spouses. They will not starve, nor will they lack the wherewithal to be always presentable and well-turned out. Official expenses, within reason and budget, will still be met by the public, but there will be no issue of any of the aforementioned spouses being seen as greedy while most Kenyans live below the poverty line.

Rejecting the payments would earn the three ladies a tremendous amount of respect and goodwill from the public.

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Mr Mutula Kilonzo comes across as a pretty sharp fellow in both his natty attire and in his gift for repartee. But as minister for Nairobi Metropolitan Development, he is going a bit over the top.

It is good to dream, but flights of fancy and castles in Spain are entirely different propositions.

The minister should stop dazzling us with all those fantasies 10-lane highways and spaghetti junctions all over the place, and even special lanes for the high and mighty, and go for the simple things first.

Residents of Nairobi’s Eastlands, Westlands, Southlands and Northlands may be impressed with all the glib talk, but all they want is the garbage collected, water in their taps and their roads fixed.

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