David Makali: Why Uhuru's Passat Directive Can’t Pass - The Star

I have followed keenly Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta's budget proposal on cost cutting through the populist plan to replace the official cars with the Volkswagen Passat and the 1800cc Mercedez Benz.

To be fair to Uhuru, the idea of cheaper transport for state officials did not originate with him; his predecessor Amos Kimunya had staged the same public stunt of state frugality and caused a few limousines and 4x4s to be hauled to the yard in Industrial Area.

Only the Ministry of Finance, however, knows what became of those vehicles and how successful that prank of a policy was.

My hunch is that if a thorough audit is conducted, it will find that only a few cars can be accounted for and the disposal of the rest is a mystery.

In the present case, too many questions are begging for answers about the directive and how the government has gone about it. We cannot overlook some things these days and even if Uhuru wants to yank everyone to court, we must raise the queries as a matter of public interest.

First, the directive seems to be yet another cosmetic measure from government. I give it to you who believes in haba na haba hujaza kibaba and that small savings here and there will ultimately amount to a leaner, less costlier government.

But 42 cars and the cost of running them has been shown, even by ministry estimates, to be just a token in government expenditure. While we must avoid state profligacy, public service should not be made to appear like a charity.

Government has to offer employment perks that compete with the private sector to attract the best talents. Public service is not all about sacrifice, poor pay and other adversities. If the government, or the taxpayer in this case, cannot afford or provide good cars for its workers, it should initiate optional schemes for its officers to take out cars.

Government officials who want a little class should be allowed their luxury by being allowed to gradually own their preferred cars at a subsidised cost through a phased ownership scheme. After all, isn't that the trend in the private sector?

It is fashionable for the media to demand certain sacrifices from public servants because that is politically correct. Yet if you flip the coin, the same critics enjoy the same privileges in their work places. Isn't it time for a paradigm or mentality shift?

But the Uhuru directive is also hypocritical. It is not ministers alone who use expensive cars. If he is serious about a new official transport policy, then he should go further and include all the state corporations and agencies that are fleecing the taxpayer.

How about the armed forces, where all senior officers have a fleet of limousines at their beck and call. Is Uhuru saying that a minister in the government is lower in rank to a brigadier in the Kenya Army, whose official car is a Mercedes and several others?

Has he not seen those chief executives of parastatals drive huge 4x4s and other sleek cars?

Then there is the matter of how the directive has been implemented. For such a pronounced policy, the details of how the car make was arrived at should not be so difficult to find.

I have several times heard the minister parry questions about his connection to CMC, the dealers and suppliers of the VW Passat. It may be that the facts bear him out but why not publish them?

It is not the first time that questions are being raised about vehicle procurement.

Previous queries about imports have always been vindicated.

When Duncan Wachira was Police Commissioner, he procured against all advice the unsuitable Mahindra for the police. The funny cars were useless for police chase. We have heard about the accident-prone Chinese trucks controversially acquired by the army, which have been killing our soldiers.

The truth is, there can be no fit-all vehicle for the government because of different needs.

To say that ministers or government officials, who have to traverse the breadth of the country, in some places where roads are non-existent, will be limited to using the low-clearance Passat is a lie that can't pass. It will sooner rather than later prove more expensive when the cars fall into disrepair.

I have no brief from the manufacturers but I think the Mercedes Benz is just fine for our government officials. In Europe and Germany, the home country, they are used as a common taxi and the prestige that we accord them here is quite frankly exaggerated.

The government must aim to balance frugality with a realistic mix of prestige, comfort and safety for our public servants.

This straight-jacket directive is suspect.

Makali is a media consultant.

This entry was posted in , , . Bookmark the permalink.