It has been a busy few weeks on the anti-corruption war front. Starting with the Sh9 billion case at the National Youth Service (NYS), followed closely by the Sh2bn affair at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and then, the mother of them all, the Sh95bn story at the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC).
Somewhere in all the billions of shillings reported, we are likely to lose sight of the facts.
For example, Sh9bn was not lost at the NYS! In fact, the cases in court are to do with Sh468 million.
This is not a small sum of money by any standards but it is miniscule when compared with the Sh9bn that has been splashed in the headlines.
Similarly, the Sh95bn story about Kenya Pipeline does not add up. A sentence in the front-page headline of the Nation of June 5 said: “In just three years, your Sh95bn could have been lost”.
However, a quick look at the audited financial reports of KPC reveals that the total revenue generated over the past three years was Sh89bn (Sh21bn in 2015, Sh23bn in 2016 and Sh25bn in 2017). Therefore, they couldn’t have lost Sh95bn because they simply did not have that kind of money!
The case at NCPB is still unfolding; but a reader pointed out to me that if Sh2bn was paid for maize imported from Uganda, then it means that we got about one million bags at Sh2,000 each.
This is equal to about 90,000 tonnes apparently delivered in a period of two months. In other words, if one was using 20-tonne trucks, they would have needed about 4,500 of them.
That is 75 lorries crossing the border carrying maize into Kenya each day for two months. Is that feasible?
Well; I have never been to the border crossing point so I don’t know. Still, traders have been known to supply Kenyan institutions with air, so you never know!
All in all, I see a danger in these exaggerated figures: Kenyans will soon become accustomed to billions of shillings and they will stop worrying when they hear about the theft of millions.
Such amounts will no longer be worthy of headline news.
And, lest we forget, a billion is an extremely large number: so large that no human being can count from one to it in a lifetime! If you doubt me, start counting now and see how far you will go by the end of today.
As illustrated in this column in March 2007, even counting the ten numbers from nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-one (999,999,991) to one billion can take you several minutes. Try it and see.
So, my advice to news reporters is this: be careful about the numbers that you splash in your stories. You might be doing more harm than good.
www.figures.co.ke; Twitter: @MungaiKihanya