The Government of Kenya is gradually moving away from imposing new containment measures to implementing those already in place. These measures have been serving as circuit breakers to fight the virus spread among communities. The measures include quarantine, travel bans and restrictions, closure of schools, cancellation of public events, closure of public places and lastly the dusk to dawn curfew. Focus is shifting to offering support to citizens whose day to day lives have been interrupted by the impact of stay-at-home orders or social distancing measures, even as the government tries to contain the virus.
Exactly a month and a few days since the first case of Covid-19 was announced in the country the focus of the President has also begun to shift to stimulus policies to provide economic cushioning especially for the most vulnerable in the society. In his speech last week President Kenyatta stated plans by the national government to provide aid to needy Kenyans. This includes the identification of needy households in Nairobi that will be the first recipients of the weekly Covid-19 stipend. In addition, the government released Sh 8.5 billion to the elderly and vulnerable individuals under the Cash Transfer programme ran by the Ministry of Labour. The international community, on the other hand, has been generous in filling the financial gaps present by offering support to ensure that African countries like Kenya are able to respond effectively to the health crisis and address economic challenges.
Health, fiscal and monetary policies coupled with foreign donations have increasingly been seen as a key tool for combating the virus. As these policies expand and donations increase, a number of structural, implementation and oversight gaps have begun to dominate the policy debate, including the viability, measurability of the impact of the programs, the mechanism of delivering the cash transfers, accountability in foreign aid and expansion of the scope beyond Covid-19. These debates are fueled by the demand to ensure that affected citizens access the services offered and draw optimal benefits from the social protection programs.
Drawing from a history of mass looting of public resources Kenyans are displaying deep scepticism over the handling of this fund. Questions arising on the accountability of the fund and the fairness of the criteria to be used to distribute it among Kenyans need to be addressed quickly lest another scandal brews right under our nose.
Whereas when addressing emergencies post-haste, the need for ensuring compliance and oversight is often superseded, an important tool for accountability and transparency at this time is having a clear information management system or registry for aid flow from the government to the citizen. The data should also be available to the public for scrutiny, citizens can participate in governance and leaders become accountable for the resources at hand.
Equally important, is the coordination of resources and efforts. Collaboration with civil society groups, citizens, private/ international partners can consolidate efforts by the government when it comes to offering solutions and innovations to counter hurdles in implementation, delivery or supply chains during this pandemic. However, the willingness for private partners or corporates, individuals and CSO to work with the government is anchored on the government’s ability to demonstrate initiative for transparency and accountability.
There also exists a high demand for national and county coordination to enhance the capacity of both levels of government to deliver services. The local government can enhance the procurement and allocation of resources from the national government. Publication of calls for tenders and timely reports on spending through local media such as newspapers and radio will improve openness.
Opportunities for poor governance laid down by disasters and outbreaks such as these are founded on the exploitation of fear and a sense of urgency. But even in the wake of all these what should worry us is that our systems are really weak and any form of aid or support should not slip into individuals’ pockets but serve each one equally. Intolerance to such practices serves a vital role in initiating the fight for good governance especially with a lot of money and resources lying around for humanitarian purposes. It also determines the viability of programmes and policies initiated by the government, to face future pandemics.