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Building stadiums yet essential services underfunded is unwise

Sunday July 12 2020
stadium_pix

The main terraces at the upcoming Kirubia Stadium near Chuka town in Tharaka Nithi County. PHOTO | CHARLES WANYORO |

By KALTUM GUYO

If I were the minister for sports in Kenya, I would pro-test commenting on the state of stadiums in the country for my own pride and dignity. Sycophancy can only go so far. I am not advocating insubordination but some sincerity from the government is long overdue.

Promises made that 10 stadiums were to be constructed ring hollow 10 years on. This is a ministry that, in un-der seven years, has had three ministers who read from the same script full of promises that the government had clearly no intention of keeping. It is a stale joke and has had its day.

Were I the government, I would keep quiet and let the finished stadiums speak for themselves. Alternatively, let Kenyans have the chance to graze their cows on the overgrown grass once their term ends. Most of our multi-billion-shilling projects have turned to white elephants and I do not think project stadiums will be any different.

BUCK PROJECTS

The thirst for big buck projects is unjustified. We have one of the most unequal countries. Our healthcare sys-tem is deplorable. Our education system has ground to a halt. Covid-19 has exposed the ramifications of corruption on children of the poor attending public schools.

Like many projects set up for embezzlement, the laptop project never materialised. Its effect has now truly been felt when children desperately needed to be taught online but there were no laptops in most schools. We would rather close schools and let children suffer than provide for what we had promised them in infrastructure, computer and high-speed internet access.

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Counties are busy building expensive houses for governors, who earn huge salaries. It is more about style than substance in our leadership and style adds no value to the people’s lives. Governors could comfortably rent houses for themselves in the open market with their house allowance. How is the mansion justified in a county with no hospital or school?

Even offices are soon going out of fashion in the Digital Age as more people work from home. Which means we need quality homes for everyone — an opportunity that one governor’s mansion takes away. Internet connectivity is sacrificed for brick and mortar, not for any other reason but huge kickbacks.

CORRUPTION PANDEMIC

The mega stadium construction projects contribute to our corruption pandemic and should be frozen. The Kimwarer and Arror dams scandal should be where we draw the line.

Dandora Stadium, for instance, is under the spotlight for the umpteenth time as allegations of embezzlement swirl around its management team. With half-built stadiums and billions of shillings lost along the way, the responsible thing to do now and post-Covid-19 is halt the scheme and transfer the funds to other needy sec-tors.

Ten years is a long time to wait for a stadium near you.

Had every Kenyan laid a brick daily, we would probably have finished building enough stadiums for every county. Giving the work to dubious contractors means they end up working in dubious fashion. Every other stadium has contractors who came in a flurry of activity then abandoned the site, having been fully paid, most likely, for work not done.

How does impunity get to this level without insiders facilitating grand corruption? There has been a pattern across projects. Have lessons never been learnt from the NYS scandals, where billions were lost to fictitious tenders? Does any leader really care for Kenya or its citizens?

Since we are that good at running and have dominated the world without as much as practising in stadiums, the sensible thing to do is to build one state-of-the-art athletics stadium-cum-fitness centre in Iten for our elite athletes. This has always been the cheaper model.

The thirst for stadiums everywhere was an ill-thought idea. We have a higher chance of exporting beef from Marsabit than producing the next Ronaldo. Trust me, I am from Marsabit!

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The money earmarked for stadiums could be put into better use elsewhere. Quality schools, hospitals, youth centres, affordable homes, refuge centres and water are desperately needed. Quality human resource would translate to better stadiums.

It is simply madness to aim to build 10 stadiums if we could not even bother to maintain the ones we have. It would be better to focus on the current national stadiums and renovate them to generate revenue than run around like headless chickens pretending to build 10 stadiums.

Indeed, economic development needs to be prioritised but stadiums do not hold the clue to our economic success. We are nowhere near the English Premier League yet to flood the country with stadiums.

The scheme is money down the pockets of corrupt officials and seriously risks joining a catalogue of white elephants dotting the country. We must learn to crawl be-fore attempting to fly. Let us focus on ‘Big Four Agenda’ instead.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo

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