I have never thought much of the Government Advertising Agency, I’ll be the first to confess. Also, in fairness, when other folks just shut up and put up, I never stopped howling at the wind. My objection was ideological and practical, not personal. Many of the folks who work in the ICT ministry are my friends and former colleagues, some of whom I have known for decades.
I believe that democracy is the best form of government. I believe in freedom — including to speak one’s mind freely and openly. I believe in a free press and its role in good transparent government and the progress of Man.
This is in my DNA. Among the tribes from which I come, a man is a free being. He has the absolute right to govern himself, his woman (I’ll not say women), his children, his cattle and his lands (my women friends and relatives will promote me to glory for that). Every man has an equal right to participate in communal decision making and to have his views listened to — respectfully — and taken into consideration. Unfortunately, some of my kinsmen have taken this outsized sense of autonomy to the extreme and become quite violent if they perceive themselves to have been disrespected.
I believe in a fairly regulated, free market economy in which the government leaves business to citizens and where we get services and opportunities in exchange for our taxes. I believe in free and fair elections. I believe in the equality of all Kenyans, irrespective of tribe or gender.
The concept of GAA flies in the face of all these values. It is backward thinking. First of all, it involves the government setting up an operation to go into business in competition with companies, many of them SMEs. Whenever government goes into business, in the majority of the cases, the result is corruption, poor services and debt. The government should focus on its core business, minding the common welfare, and not stray into media buying.
Secondly, I was right: The justification given at the launch of GAA that it was a means to saving money was a hoax. Racking up debts of Sh2.5 billion is not saving money. It is chaotic, unlawful and unfair conduct where the government, in effect, robs the taxpaying citizens: It takes goods and services from the people and refuses to pay for them.
The secret motive behind GAA, to use advertising as leverage to cover up bad behaviour, is anti-democratic. Anyone telling you there can be democracy without a free and vibrant media is new to the theory. All those politicians, including Donald Trump, who don’t know the function of the media and imagine that TV stations and newspapers exist to sing praise, are not democrats. They should not be ashamed to say what they are.
The mismanagement of GAA is a big embarrassment to the government — unless the government and those who run it no longer have any shame — in the eyes of the public and its international partners. It is a bad thing when citizens get to a point where they consider their government dishonest and uncreditworthy.
The government, and the country, is better off without GAA. It should be disbanded and the good people who work for it given alternative jobs. Let government departments manage their own media buying and their own budgets. And if the government wants leverage with the media, let it lobby and use good science and other management approaches.
But the communication sector is just a small part of the government debt situation. Both county governments and the Jubilee government are simply not fond of honouring contracts and paying debts. In 2013, Jubilee started on a good note by setting aside a proportion of government tenders for youth, women and the disabled. Has it paid them?
By some estimates, the government now owes suppliers Sh200 billion. As the Daily Nation reported, this is causing distortions in the financial sector, pushing up bad debt by Sh28 billion. Not to mention untold suffering.
The newspapers are full of adverts of vehicles and other machinery being auctioned because folks who did work for the government, particularly the counties, were not paid and, therefore, can’t service their loans. The Daily Nation has done stories of desperate Kenyans whose lives have been destroyed by a cruel system that takes their sweat but won’t pay for it.
But there is good news for all those suffering Kenyans, I think. The decision by Director of Public Prosecution Noordin Haji to order investigations into the Ministry of ICT, and GAA, for failure to honour contracts and pay debts is a great development. It gives life to the provisions in the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act, which demand of public officials that they manage public resources prudently and respect contracts.
A way must be found for the thousands of fearful Kenyans, who have been suffering in silence, to come out and seek relief in the courts. As for those officials who have played with the lives of innocent people, it is only fair that they be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
It is better for you to give tenders to your friends and family, by all means knock yourselves out, than to offer work to the public which you then don’t pay for.