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How does a good government treat its citizens in times of crises?

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th April 2011 03:00 AM

THE whole of our region is restless about food prices, rising fuel costs and unbearable cost of living that has already reached unmanageable levels.

THE whole of our region is restless about food prices, rising fuel costs and unbearable cost of living that has already reached unmanageable levels.

By Jerry Okungu

THE whole of our region is restless about food prices, rising fuel costs and unbearable cost of living that has already reached unmanageable levels.

Television footages on Kenya’s major networks are full of miserable villagers feeding on wild plants, boiled maize if they are lucky or worse, boiled carcasses of animals they come across as they search for food in the wilderness.

What makes the Kenyan situation so dire is because most of our country is barren land, unlike Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. The whole of northern Kenya is considered arid even in the best of times. Rains hardly come on time. Half the time water is as precious as oil if not more.

As Ugandans in Kampala, Gulu and other towns try walking to work in protest against high cost of fuel; as Tanzanians and the rest of East Africans still contemplate what action to take to force their governments to cushion them against this runaway inflation, an interesting and almost hilarious debate took place in Kenya’s Parliament this week.

It all started with Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s weekly address to Parliament. This time the entire nation was glued on to their TV sets to hear what good news the PM would bring to this tortured nation considering that before he came to Parliament, it was reported that he had consulted widely with President Mwai Kibaki on the thorny issues of fuel and food prices.

As it turned out, the big story was that the Executive had consulted widely and agreed to remove taxes on kerosene, wheat, maize and cooking oil. This statement was as baffling to the MPs in attendance as it was to the rest of Kenyans. Interestingly, even that was still just a promise considering that such reductions would call for a cabinet paper, a debate in parliament and consent by the President. It meant that Kenyans could wait for at least another four weeks before seeing any reprieve.

The Prime Minister of Kenya also promised workers a pay increase on Labour Day but was reluctant to say by what percentage; never mind that the workers’ union had already indicated that it would not accept anything less than 60% pay hike. It remains to be seen how the union would react to the Prime Minister’s gesture. As MPs jostled to catch the Speaker’s eye on this all-important debate, one MP from Nyanza region surprised all and sundry when he suggested that Kenyans that are 60 years and above and have no other means of income should get allowance of $23 per month for their upkeep. In local currency, this translates into sh66 per day, the amount that cannot buy a packet of unga in one day.

Strangely enough, no honourable member took this colleague to task to explain how he had arrived at this ridiculous figure. Perhaps one of the contributions that resonated well with Kenyans but received cold reception from fellow MPs was from MP Kiema Kilonzo. In his contribution, he suggested that MPs should at this time of real hardship forego their daily allowances as part of their contribution to lessen hardship faced by ordinary Kenyans. He suggested that the bloated cabinet should be reduced to a minimum as extravagant government expenditure including unnecessary overseas travels are done away with. However, instead of MPs responding with a thunderous applause, he was greeted with silence. Not even the prompting by Prime Minister to give Kiema Kilonzo’s statement a boost bore any fruit.

The debate in Kenya’s parliament notwithstanding, the crux of the matter is simple. Ordinary people throughout East Africa are facing a common disaster. Their daily lives are in jeopardy. They can no longer afford basics of life. Public transport has become unaffordable due to the high prices of fuel which have also affected manufactured goods making retail prices in outlets unaffordable. This price unaffordability of basic commodities is the reason ordinary Tunisians and Egyptians went to the streets without a political leader to wrestle power from politicians. They rioted for days and demanded regime change until they got it. They resolved to first get rid of political roadblocks then find solutions to their problems later.

What informs a good and mindful government is its ability to take care of its citizens in times of crises. There has to be a balance between producer prices paid to farmers and manufacturers and that of retailers to the extent that some governments go overboard to subsidise these sectors. When producer prices are subsidised at source, chances are that retail prices will be affordable. It is the reason the so-called developed countries subsidise their farmers.

When ordinary citizens go hungry, have no jobs or cannot take their children to school while we cruise around in the latest expensive limousines, we are courting disaster. And when it does come as it did in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria and Libya, it will consume us all and only survivors will live to tell our story.


jerryokungu@gmail.com




How does a good government treat its citizens in times of crises?

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