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April 2003

NARC’s 100 days of mixed signals

Zachary Ochieng

It is more than 100 days since the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) took over the reigns of the country, having humiliated the Kenya African National Union (KANU) at the December 2002 transition election that ended the latter’s 40 year stranglehold on Kenya’s politics.

As the euphoria that characterized the election that catapulted NARC to victory continues to wane, it is now time to take stock of the government’s performance in its first 100 days. NARC won the election on a variety of platforms including provision of free primary education, enactment of a new constitution within the first 100 days, zero tolerance on corruption and creation of half a million jobs annually, among other pledges.

Looking back at these promises, it cannot be gainsaid that the government has fulfilled its pledges on some fronts while a few set goals remain unattained. Analysts, however, are almost unanimous that the NARC government has indeed made an impact in the first 100 days. A survey conducted early this month by Steadman Research Services, a research consultancy firm, shows that 92 per cent of Kenyans are happy with the government’s performance.

According to official survey, four out f five Kenyans see the provision of free primary education as the most visible and far reaching success of the new government. Though dogged by logistical problems at the time of implementation early this year, the free education policy has brought to school 1.3 million more children, raising the primary school population to 7.1 million. This, by itself, is no mean feat considering that before the introduction of this policy, an estimated 3 million school age children were out of school, due to lack of fees.

While the financial and quality implications of the free primary education policy are still being studied, the initiative has received overwhelming support from development partners and Kenyans resident abroad and could become a lasting legacy of the party, if effectively and efficiently implemented.

Another milestone that mark’s NARC’s 100 days in office is the rehabilitation of street families. Over the years, the streets of Nairobi had become home to thousands of street people, who made life unbearable to tourists as well as Kenyans. Having acquired criminal tendencies, the street people unleashed terror to unsuspecting victims going about their daily businesses.

Determined to make the streets safe and make the street people lead a normal city life, the government embarked on a rehabilitation programme that has seen a number of street people being settled in temporary homes while others have been sent to vocational training centers. Though this initiative is also mired in controversy given the huge sums of money that it entails, it goes without saying that if properly coordinated, it will provide a lasting security to those operating their businesses within the city and a new lease of life to those rehabilitated.

Following closely on the heels of rehabilitation of street families is the resettlement of hawkers who had invaded the city streets with impunity. During the KANU regime, pedestrians and motorists alike had difficulties using the city streets as the hawkers had spread their wares all over the place, obstructing licensed businesses being operated in town, not to mention the garbage that littered the streets after hawkers left for the day.

Thanks to the efforts of hard working Local Government minister Karisa Maitha, the hawkers have now been designated their areas of operation and one can easily walk the streets of Nairobi. Once again, the initiative has made Nairobi attractive to both domestic and foreign business.

The government’s frontal attack on corruption has received widespread support. The encouragement given to ordinary Kenyans to fight graft has left indelible marks in a number sectors, including the police, the judiciary, the parastatals and the banking sector. This, however, has not gone down well with KANU secretary general Julius Sunkuli, who accuses NARC of pursuing personal vendetta against the KANU leadership under the guise of fighting corruption. Says he: "The NARC leaders have spent all their energies digging past graves while pursuing personal vendetta against their perceived enemies in KANU".

But the government’s record speaks for itself. For the first time in the history of Kenya, a tribunal was set up to investigate the conduct of a chief justice. But even before the tribunal could convene for its first sitting, Bernard Chunga, who was to be investigated for allegations of corruption among other charges, opted to resign.

The government has also prosecuted a number of corruption cases including the one facing former High Court Judge justice Samuel Oguk, who subsequently resigned. Of significance is the arraigning in court of the directors of Euro Bank, which went under with millions of dollars belonging to state corporations. The directors of state corporations who deposited money in the bank have also been charged in court.

It is worth noting that in the previous regime, banks went under with millions of shillings but their directors would go scot-free, owing to the protection they enjoyed from State House. This was not the case this time, as public pressure forced Central Bank governor Nahashon Nyagah to resign, as did John Munge, Commissioner general of the Kenya Revenue Authority, who was a former director of the bank.

The Euro Bank saga, however also caused some disenchantment as it was felt that there was selective punishment for those involved in the sinking of millions, with culprits from the Mount Kenya region being left untouched.

What cannot be denied, however, is the determination of various ministries to fight graft. Notably, the ministries of Local Government, Public Works and Housing, Lands and Settlement and Environment and Natural Resources have moved to repossess plots and houses that were illegally acquired. The repossession of public utilities has dealt a severe blow to the land grabbing mania that had taken deep root during the KANU regime.

But the fight against corruption suffered a major setback in parliament last month following the withdrawal of two crucial Bills- popularly known as "Donor Bills"- as the Bretton Woods institutions would only resume lending to Kenya upon their enactment. The Kenya Anti-corruption Bill and the Public officers Ethics Bill could not be brought before the floor of the House following disagreements among the NARC MPs. The failure to enact the Bills will delay the resumption of aid to Kenya, thereby hampering the government’s efforts to initiate quick economic recovery.

When it came to power, the government promised to review salaries of teachers and other civil servants such as policemen but this has not been done to date. Instead, the MPs approved for themselves salary increments which saw each of them take home US $ 6466. They also approved grants of US $ 44000 for each of them to buy a luxurious car. All this was done as the first business of the House to the disappointment of the people who voted them in.

The appointments to cabinet positions and state corporation jobs have also led to bad blood within the party ranks. The bone of contention has been that a region- the Mount Kenya area has been favoured in appointments at the expense of other regions. Also not going down well with the populace has been the recycling of retired personnel, leaving out equally competent young men and women who were promised jobs during the campaign period. It is however hoped that with the retreat held at Nanyuki early this month, the differences will soon be a thing of the past.

Though the ministers are left to work independently and have tried their best so far, the issue of collective responsibility seems to have been thrown out of the window. Ministers have been known to go at each others’ throats in public. Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Kiraitu Murungi recently admitted publicly that he sabotaged the appointment of his Roads and Public Works counterpart Raila Odinga as the Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review. And recently, Maitha exposed Assistant minister for Education Fred Gumo over a scandal in which the latter bought a parking lot at US $ 146,666 and subsequently sold it to the Central Bank of Kenya at a whopping US $ 4,000,000.

Though NARC promised Kenyans a new constitution within the first 100 days, this has not materialized. Observers argue that a section of the NARC hierarchy is not comfortable with certain sections of the Draft constitution, particularly, the position of the powerful Prime Minister. Though a new constitution is now expected by the end of July, elimination of some sections is bound to cause further rifts in the party and could lead to the collapse of the nascent coalition.

Also disappointing is the government’s inability to create jobs as promised. The strikes that hit the Export Processing Zones (EPZs) led to the closure of a number of companies and loss of 5000 jobs. It therefore remains to be seen how the government is going to create 500000 jobs annually as it promised the electorate.

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