Chaos rocked the busiest airport in East Africa after Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) workers downed their tools when it emerged that there was a looming takeover of Kenya Airport Authority (KAA) by Kenya Airways. The Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KAWU) cited underpayment, mistreatment and the dominance by foreigners at high-level positions as some of their grievances shortly before business went back to normal.
The normalcy however didn’t mask the fact that local boards have a tendency of recruiting foreigners to take up leadership positions leaving the locals’ expertise untapped and killing the public morale as a result. If the list of board members and their salaries is anything to go by, then it’s only fair for staff in the middle and lower tier to ask for better compensation. It was saddening to see that the government exercised zero restraint on the staff, deploying the GSU who beat and arrested them for exercising their constitutional right. What was more shocking, was the speed at which the Government addressed the strike.
Was it just because this strike affected the elite who depend on air travel unlike the common mwananchi who has to battle 3-hour traffic jams every day? Never have we seen the same replicated when it comes to teachers, doctors or nurses’ strikes which directly affects the livelihoods of Kenyans?.
Another issue that came forward was the lack of public involvement in the proposed merger where KAWU is an interested party. Article 201 (a) of the constitution states, “there shall be openness and accountability, including public participation in financial matters.” Kenya Airways’ loss-making history raises red flags as to what informed the decision to merge it with a profitable entity like the KAA. The government has a culture of secrecy deep ingrained, where information on board appointments, contractors, tenders is kept in the dark and only comes out when a scandal blows up.
How did they appoint foreigners to most senior management positions yet there’s enough expertise locally? How was the hiring done? For the rare instances that a local heads a state organization or board, a little digging reveals that they’re affiliated to someone in the high powers. Outright cronyism and nepotism have become a norm in the appointment processes. These encourage the mass looting that we witness day in day out. Since the President and Opposition leader are in agreement with regards to fighting graft it’s about time the Commander-in-Chief makes true his promise so that we can see culprits in jail, lost money recovered and property reclaimed.
Now more than ever leaders from both sides of the divide have a chance to display collaborative politics and fight corruption without sparing any ‘friends’. There are too many loopholes that need to be fixed to stop any more loss of taxpayers’ money. Parliamentary debate on the proposed KAA and Kenya Airways merger in the National Assembly saw MPs gag themselves during debate awaiting the Executive’s position on the same, yet the house controls the public purse.
Given the gravity of the matter as Kenya Airways is a national icon, our legislators should have read Kenyans mood on the issue and aired their views on the same. Lest our leaders forget, Article 1 of the Constitution states ‘All Sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and shall be exercised only in accordance with this Constitution and the people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives.’ In any battle for the nation’s soul and pride, the people’s voice is paramount rather than the voice of the power elite.