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MHESHIMIWA: No, not a penny was lost

Who created newspapers? For what reason? What if there were no newspapers, say for a month, would that be the end of the world as we know it? Those people who write things in the newspapers, what problem do they want to solve? What do they know? Who sent them? What do they want? Money? Fame? To change the world? Where is the evidence? Where in the world has a newspaper changed even a single home? What do newspapers and the people writing in them actually want? Whom do they speak for, their owners or their readers?

These and a thousand similar questions swirled in my mind after looking at Kenya’s leading dailies on Tuesday, 6 March 2018. As a patriot I could not avoid the conclusion that coverage of the Auditor General’s report for the last financial year was motivated by a dark agenda to destroy this country completely. But we will not allow it. Never! Listen good.

“Jubilee can’t account for Sh40b – Auditor”, screamed The Star. Subhead: “Secret Interior Ministry-run account spent Sh8.7 billion since Uhuruto 2013.” Poof! Sh40 billion gone just like that? Outrageous! No, actually, seditious!

Two things: Number one, why did The Star describe the Interior Ministry account as “secret”, yet the Auditor General knows it exists? He showed in his report that Sh8.7 billion has been spent since 2013 from that account. How can something be a secret yet it is known? And The Star’s own word is “spent”, not wasted or stolen. In any case, are there “public” bank accounts? Are The Star’s accounts public?

And number two, do the people at The Star know that it is a serious offence to reveal government secrets? These newspapers only know too much English. The Kiswahili word for government is “Serikali”, from the original “Siri kali”, meaning Top Secret. Civil servants who go yapping about government secrets from the comfort of their bar stools will soon face the music. Be sure of that.

Of course Jubilee can’t – and need not – account for Sh40 billion. Or any other public money for that matter. Why should the government account for money entrusted to it by its citizens? Do journalists go to school? Do they understand democracy? What does it mean to govern?

The people overwhelmingly voted for Jubilee, which is a clear sign of trust. That means the government is fully mandated to spend public money on behalf of the people without the need to account for every penny to anyone at all. Is that clear? The people themselves have not said they are suspicious of government expenditure, why is this a problem for The Star newspaper?

Every year the government draws up a budget, which is presented to the public in parliament. Government says: This is the money we want for A,B,C and D. Isn’t that enough? Can the government lie to its people? Why lie?

The Standard on its part decided to do a funny graphic on its front-page and titled it, “Auditor’s trail on how Sh10 billion went to waste”. These people are not serious. Sh10 billion? That’s a quarter of what The Star alleged was lost. See, the newspapers can’t even agree on the figures, yet they purport to quote the same report. We know you!

So, what happened to the billions? According to The Standard, “white elephant” projects gobbled up the money. “More intriguing is that some of the projects were never executed or have stalled, yet payments were made,” the paper reported.

This is malicious! The Standard ought to mind its language. You can’t accuse a government elected by the people of putting up white elephant projects. That’s an insult already. Rather than the lazy journalism of merely reproducing the claims of the Auditor General’s report, why can’t The Standard do its own investigations of those so-called white elephant projects and tell Kenyans what is actually going on there? Of course they know their own investigations would establish that the projects are doing very well.

The Nation also carried two short reports on this issue on the back page. The paper had carried two other reports about Sh40 billion unaccounted for on Sunday, 4 March (p.12). Wise decision. These are not the kinds of reports you scream about on the front-page of a national newspaper on a weekday – unless you are fighting the government. What will our development partners think? The Sunday Nation instead led with that earthshaking story of Walter Barasa who has been battling extradition to the ICC. He has changed his mind and now wants to surrender to the court. Yes! That is what Kenyans want to read about.

Why do newspapers get excited about reports by the Auditor General or anyone else, anyway? There are piles upon piles of reports gathering dust at government offices since independence. If set on fire they would burn the Indian Ocean. Completely. But those reports mean nothing. Zero. They are a waste of time, paper and office space – at least the people who compile them get paid for it.

Tell me, what have commissions of inquiry reports achieved down the decades? Where is the Ndung’u land report? What did it achieve? Where is the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission’s report?

And who are those newspaper editors and journalists to keep talking about things they hardly understand? Who elected them? Who pays them? How can they purport to serve the public interest? That is the responsibility of the government.

The thing is, the Auditor General’s reports or indeed any others mean absolutely nothing. No one orders the government about. Government is directly answerable to the people who put it in power, not to newspaper editors. Anyone can write their reports or issue whatever orders they like, but it is only the government that knows what the citizens want. The government is always right – and honest. It cannot squander the people’s money. The government and the people are the same.

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