Once again, the government has given an assurance that it will clear the Sh2.5 billion it owes the media. The assurance by Information and Communication Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru at the weekend is encouraging.
But the government must now pay; promises are not enough. The media have raised the matter several times and received the same response. It is high time the government honoured its word.
The debt has accumulated over time, arising from services offered to the Government Advertising Agency (GAA), which was set up principally to coordinate all media advertising for the State. Yet during the short period it has been in existence, the agency has caused bad blood between the media and the government. Media organisations have acted in good faith by taking in adverts from the agency only to end up with bad debts.
The understanding was that the agency would honour its obligations. However, this was not to be. Worse, it has been double jeopardy for the media because, besides the unpaid debt, they have had to pay taxes on the sales. This is not good for business.
Thus far, individuals, including the past chief executive officer of the agency, have been arraigned over the scandal.
The reason for establishing the central agency to handle government advertising was to create efficiency and effectiveness. The GAA would consolidate all advertisements and buy media space for the government and, through that secure good deals because of the volumes. For the media, this provided a one-stop shop for securing and negotiating for government advertisements.
The delay in paying the debts casts the government in bad light. First, it is its duty to create a conducive environment for enterprise; it cannot be the one to frustrate business. It has to be at the forefront of paying its debts to show the way.
Secondly, and importantly, vibrant and robust media are critical to democratic practice. Kenya is evolving as a strong democracy, whose tenets include a thriving independent media. Underpinning that is a media with financial muscle. But that is not possible when the government withholds money that it owes the media.
Indebtedness incapacitates the media. Indeed, some observers have averred that the government could, perhaps, be deliberately withholding the cash to bring down the media. We believe that is not the case.
However, Mr Mucheru should ensure that the media are paid their dues. That will be good for the government, the media players and the public at large.