Monday, December 14, 2009

CRSP List...Published on KRA Website!

KRA have finally taken the step of publishing their CRSP list on their website. Scroll to the bottom under 'Important Notices'.

This is a great step for transparency.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Does Inefficiency + Corruption = False Accomplishment & Under achievement?

Last week, I received a rates bill from the Nairobi City Council that erroneously showed I had an amount outstanding despite the amount having been settled months ago.

On Friday, I duly went to City Hall to get the problem resolved. Having dealt with the same problem before, I took along copies of the paid rates receipt from earlier this year. Unfortunately I was told that the amount shown as outstanding was reflecting an unpaid amount from 2008 (despite the fact the exact same thing happened in 2008 and I took copies of paid receipts along with a letter to get the payment made last year reflected). I was therefore advised to bring copies of the payment receipts from last year (which I had foolishly not carried with me).

Yesterday (Tuesday), I took copies of all the payment reciepts, the officer I had dealt with looked them over and confirmed that my account should be at zero. He then directed me to Chief Accountant Rates to endorse the change and input it into the system. (Only the chief accountant and IC accountant in rates department can do this).

When I got to the accountants' offices, the IC accountant was out, the chief accountant was with somebody. I waited about 15-20 minutes for the chief accountant to finish with the person she was seeing. She promptly left. I waited another hour or so before first the IC accountant, then 5 minutes later the Chief accountant returned to their offices.

While I had been waiting, the secretary had suggested I leave the documents and check on the progress of the case in 3-5 days. I decided to wait. Once the IC accountant came back, he resolved the issue in about 5 minutes.

In total (if both Friday & Tuesday visits to City Hall are included), I spent close to 2 hours waiting around for something that cumulatively took 10 minutes to resolve. This is only the time spent in City Hall and does not include the time spent to get there.

Once the matter was resolved, I briefly felt a sense of accomplishment. I was briefly happy that I had managed to get the matter sorted out. But in reality what did I achieve? Very little. This is not something I should have been excited or happy to have done. The sense of accomplishment was derived from the unnecessary complication of what is a very simple process. I think of it as a false sense of accomplishment.

As an average Kenyan going about my day-to-day business, I realize that my life is filled with similar sorts of experiences. Very simple processes that are made to seem extremely complex and complicated which when navigated successfully, breed this false sense of accomplishment. It leads me to wonder:

Can/Does this state of affairs turn us into a nation of under achievers? A nation of perennially 'busy' yet fairly unproductive people? Are we already that? Does this translate to lack of ambition?

I have been very critical of government/civil service about a failure to tackle corruption and inefficiency..some feel unfairly so. But much of my frustration stems from the fact that I see a total failure to put real thought, real commitment and real effort into simplifying the simple processes for us wananchi. Infact I should say re-simplifying the simple processes.

It is my belief that one method of creating avenues for rent-seeking (corruption) is to make systems as complex, convoluted and inefficient as possible. The rent-seeker then offers their 'services' to 'navigate' through the system quickly.

It is my belief that if there was real commitment to fighting corruption, this avenue would be closed by examining the processes and procedures in place to ensure that the system operates at maximum efficiency at all times. This commitment would also manifest in desire to make these processes and procedures as clear and transparent as possible.

In most cases I see, this first step does not require much more than thought and leadership. Thought to examine the system and see where loopholes lie (unmanned work stations, convoluted/repetitive procedures etc) and leadership in closing those loopholes.

As a simple example, there should be a directive at City Hall that there must always be at least one person on duty and at their workstation who has the authority to endorse rates revisions. That way my 10 minute task can be completed in 10-15..maybe 20 minutes as opposed to the 90+ minutes it took yesterday.

By making processes as simple, quick and efficient as possible, we shorten the time it takes to carry out tasks which allows us to be more productive.

By simplifying the simple, we (theoretically) enhance our work ethic by raising the bar of what it takes for individuals to feel any sense of accomplishment. We may be a hard working people, but I would not say we are an especially productive/efficient people yet. That needs to change.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Letter to MG Waweru (KRA)


Dear Mr. Waweru,

Firstly, I would like to congratulate and thank you for all the good work that you have done and continue to do at KRA.

I am writing to you to seek your personal intervention in the matter of import duty and tax calculation for motor vehicles.

When one imports a motor vehicle, duty and taxes payable are calculated based upon the Current Retail Selling Price (CRSP) of the vehicle. Unfortunately, KRA does not make this information clear to importers at the outset. I have looked on the KRA website and found that the vast majority of references to Customs Value indicate CIF as the value that is used to calculate duty. I have looked at FAQ and there is only one solitary sentence here that states “The CIF is also deduced from the CRSP of the vehicle” with no further clarification of what methodology is used to do this. All other information about Customs Value, including that in the Customs Department FAQ section of the website dedicated to second hand motor vehicle import (here) refers solely to CIF as the value from which duty & taxes are calculated. Additionally, the CRSP list that KRA uses to compute duty is kept secret by KRA.

I write to you to seek your personal intervention in the following way:

To urge KRA to make ALL information (especially the full CRSP list) and methodologies relating to computation of import duties readily and easily available to the public: KRA has already taken the first step towards this by publicizing the Duty Calculation Template and making it available for free download on the site. I applaud this step and encourage KRA to go the whole way and publicize the CRSP list along with any other relevant methodologies that are used to arrive at duty figures. (For example I would suggest including another spreadsheet to enable customers to calculate how to pro rate their customs value based on engine size). I believe that KRA themselves use a series of spreadsheets to capture all this information. Why not make all this available to the public?

My reasons for making this plea are as follows:

1. Efficiency: By demystifying the duty calculation and making the process totally transparent to your customers, you empower us to offer a better service to our customers. If I as a vehicle importer have all the relevant information pertaining to duty calculation, I can quickly and easily create fairly accurate quotes for my customers. Sometimes I need to create duty quotes for potential clients of up to 20 vehicles. It becomes difficult to have to keep referring to KRA to get their estimate on each vehicle. It also wastes the time of the KRA agent. It would be immensely helpful if I (and others) could have all this information at my fingertips so that I could prepare my quotes in the shortest time possible. I would offer a better service, therefore attract more clients, import more vehicles and thereby pay more tax.

2. Eliminate Corruption: I firmly believe that in all processes, transparency helps to eliminate corruption. If it is very clear to a potential importer what import duty will be charged on his vehicle, the avenues for seeking to be corrupt are closed. I have heard of quite a few cases of people who have imported vehicles with one duty figure in mind (based on their CIF) only to be presented with a much higher figure (based on CRSP). The choices open to such a person are few especially if he does not have the extra cash for additional duty to hand. Some I have heard of have had to forfeit their investments and leave their vehicles in the port because they were unwilling/unable to pay kickbacks and were unable to raise the extra money before port charges made their undertaking unfeasible. I am sure many more take the option of paying somebody somewhere something small.

I have spoken to clearing agents, fellow importers and even people who are not directly involved with vehicle import and I have as yet not heard a single compelling reason for keeping the CRSP list and other information relevant to import duty calculations secret. I have written to KRA, called KRA, even been there in person asking the same thing: for the list to be publicized or for the reasons for sticking with this policy and all they are willing to say is that “Unfortunately the CRSP list is an internal document and cannot be publicized” or words to that effect.

I therefore seek your personal intervention to bring more transparency to the process or at least clarify what reason there is for all the secrecy that exists in this process.

It is my sincere hope that my correspondence does not cause any offence and will be taken as feedback that will contribute to a better KRA and by extension a better Kenya.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It is not "the Media"..It is not "Politics"..It is not "Disrespect"... is a populace that is fed up of being treated as though we are less than, as though our thoughts, opinions and feelings do not matter or do not count. It is your bad management, flawed PR and poor strategy.

Everytime the president does something that causes friction (such as the Ringera reappointment or the Kivuitu reappointment), government supporters come out with the same arguments:

- The Media is to blame for the government being unpopular
- Its ODM and their politics that cause the government to be so unpopular
- Questioning the president is disrespectful/Kibz bashing is in Fashion

I tend to disagree with all three viewpoints.

The Media/Public Relations/Strategy
Yes indeed, as has been mentioned countless times in countless forums, the media is always seeking negativity to report on. Afterall, that's what sells. The trick therefore is TO MANAGE MEDIA RELATIONS not to sit whining and crying about biased media. It is not about returning to a dictatorship, it is about playing smart. This is one area in which the Kibaki administration has completely failed.

Any successful organization needs a smart PR strategy. Since 2003, I have watched as the Kibaki administration has stumbled from PR gaffe to PR gaffe, from crisis to crisis and from mistake to mistake. This cannot be blamed on media. This is a management failure.

Yes ODM play politics, dirty politics even. But, this is the nature of the sport that is politics. If you are in power and I want to get to where you are, I will try to discredit every single thing I can about everything you do.

Once again, a good, smart PR strategy takes care of this problem. The trick here is NOT TO GIVE YOUR OPPONENT ANY AMMUNITION TO USE AGAINST YOU. Nobody in their right minds can say Kibz & Co. have done this. Infact Kibz and Co have often seemed like ODM moles due to all the silly gaffes they keep making.

Sometimes this argument will also take the form of: "Well it's his ministers who do that and he's a hands off manager". Garbage. Even the most hands off manager is ultimately responsible for results. Public perception is a result. To ignore that aspect of the job would be grossly negligent. Same way people will say "Kibz cannot be responsible for individual's performance, he hires people and lets them get on with their jobs". Are you kidding me? Who is responsible for delivery if not the manager? Ultimately, the buck has to stop with the man at the top, it is he who appoints and therefore it is he who must demand performance.

Questioning the President is Disrespectful/Kibz bashing is in Fashion
Only sycophants would say that questioning the president is disrespectful. Who pays the president? He works for the Kenyan people, therefore we can question him about any issue that relates to the running of the country we hired him to steer ON OUR BEHALF.

Kibz bashing might be in fashion..but this is because of the flawed & ineffective PR strategy that Kibz has in place. Over the years, the government (starting right from the very top) has given the impression that it is not bothered about the views and opinions of Kenyans, that it is not bothered with being popular. Well in democracy, popularity is the currency of power. This is where strategy comes in. Kibz may be content being unpopular, inaccessible and arrogant towards Kenyans but at the end of the day, that will have repercussions. The repercussions of 2003-2007 were simple. A disputed election, meaning a coalition government..therefore meaning that exercise of powers is not as straightforward as Kibz might like it to be.

It is easy to blame politics, the media etc, but I would suggest that Kibs needs to look much closer to home to figure out exactly why he has many of the problems he faces today.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ringera..KACC Credibility at Stake

OK, so Kibaki went ahead and reappointed Ringera for a further 5 years, seemingly with no reference to anybody..not even the KACC Advisory Committee.

Now by all accounts, he is technically within his rights as president to do so. As I understand the current law, the KACC Advisory Board and parliament are only required to vet NEW appointments. It is not mandatory for there to be a vetting process for contract renewals.

Firstly; I find that a fairly sloppy piece of legislation. I'm no lawyer, but I equate writing laws to agreeing contracts. I have come to learn over the years that even though you may be on the best of terms with the other party, when you are drafting a contract ALWAYS take every possibility into consideration. NEVER rely on the goodwill of the other party. You never know what may happen in future. By drafting and passing a law that necessitates consultations for appointments but not for reappointments, parliament dropped the ball big time.

Secondly; and I believe far more importantly, the KACC is an organisation that needs to be seen to be credible. It is an organisation that needs to be seen to have procedures that are totally above board. It is in this respect that I feel the president has erred (as he did with the Electoral Commission appointments pre-election). By reappointing Ringera in the manner he has done, the president has eroded any credibility that KACC (and by extension the GoK fight against corruption) may have earned/regained from a more consultative appointment process. Kenyans had pretty much lost all hope in the KACC delivering under Ringera. By reappointing Ringera "because I can", the president has now made himself out to be somebody who condones corruption and is not in the least bit sincere about his oft stated "zero tolerance to corruption" policy.

As he did with the ECK, the president has effectively stripped yet another institution of any hope, faith, trust or confidence that the Kenyan public may have had in it.

As we saw with the post election violence, institutions that lack credibility can be a ticking time bomb and can easily be used by mischievous and devious individuals to cause chaos.

Kibaki has once again shown us that he does indeed wield all the power, but I fear he has chosen short term gain over long term benefit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

KRA CRSP (Scribd)

Here is a link to the KRA Current Retail Selling Prices list that's used to calculate duty on motor vehicle imports into Kenya.

This is from April 2008, dont know how much its been updated since. I got it in January or February 2009.

There's a snafu on the BMW section but I'm told BMW CRSPs changed drastically with Bavaria Motors entry into the Kenyan market so probably best calling KRA for those.

I posted this because I find it stupid to keep the list a secret. KRA would have people believe that duty is charged based on CIF (cost, insurance, freight) of a vehicle to Mombasa. I have found that this is often a falsehood. I have also found that in many cases, duty calculated based on CIF is lower than that calculated using devalued CRSP, especially for newer vehicles.

To calculate duty, take the value of the vehicle you have in mind to import from the CRSP list and plug it into the Duty Valuation Template which is downloadable from KRA website here. The duty valuation template is pretty straightforward and shows what to key in based on age and type of vehicle. The spreadsheet should give you an idea of what your duty payable will be.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Where is Personal Responsibility in Kenya?

Yesterday evening, I watched an interview with Samuel Kivuitu (ex-head of our discredited ECK). He was speaking about how Kibaki and Raila did not send him off with the respect and dignity he felt he deserved. At the same time, he also spoke about how he unfortunately fell ill prior to the elections and shady business may have been conducted by some of his commissioners who "took advantage of his ill health" and his inability to watch over them as he would have wanted to, to cause mischief with the electoral process.


Samuel Kivuitu seemingly takes no responsibility for any of the irregularities and the manner in which the election was managed (so poorly that it almost plunged the country into civil war). Infact, Samuel Kivuitu wants to be hailed as a hero despite all these things, afterall Samuel Kivuitu was sick and not able to properly do his job!

If Samuel Kivuitu was unable to properly carry out the work for which we, the taxpayers were offering him a healthy remuneration, then Samuel Kivuitu should have quit. As long as he stayed in the job, I do not care one bit if he was sick or his wife was sick or his mother died or whatever other sob story he wants to offer us...he has to do the job he is paid for..otherwise he has to step aside. To fail so miserably at his job, then stay in the media whinging about this, that and the other leaves a very very bad taste in my mouth.

But Kivuitu is not alone in suffering from this disease, Infact, I fear that the disease is becoming the norm rather than the exception in our society.

The disease in question is the refusal to accept the consequences of one's actions.

In modern day Kenya, nobody is ever at fault for anything, nobody ever takes responsibility for anything. Salesmen are ill-prepared, sullen and rude yet bemoan life when they don't make any sales, ministers act arrogant then bemoan the media when the media turns on them, retailers sell poor products then cry when customers stop coming... Everything is everyone else's fault. Nothing is 'my' fault.

Things go wrong in life, people make mistakes. What makes a person great is not living a mistake-free life, but rather how one reacts to the missteps they make.

Do you own your errors and misjudgements? Do you accept the consequences of your actions?

I believe most people would answer 'yes' but the sad truth in modern day Kenya is more likely than not a firm 'NO'.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Corruption: Disease or Symptom?

We are always hearing about 'The Fight Against Corruption'. Every public sector office we go to these days is guaranteed to have at least two or three "Fight Corruption" or "Corruption is Evil" posters prominently displayed around the place. Any current affairs television talk show invariably talks about the subject. Wananchi complain that government is too corrupt, government retorts that corruption is a two way transaction and for every corrupt officer, there is a corrupt citizen willing to bribe to get ahead.

I appreciate that we should be talking about corruption and we should be working very hard to tackle corruption however I think that in most cases, corruption is just the last step in the chain of what afflicts us in this country. Corruption is in many ways a symptom of a couple of systemic problems which I believe if fixed would eliminate the majority of corruption.

1. Inefficiency
I once imported a certain car for sale. I followed all the procedures exactly as they are spelled out to get the car registered. Within a week of the car arriving in Nairobi, I had agreed the sale of the car on condition that I could show the prospective buyer the logbook of the car. The logbook took 5 weeks to arrive!! 5 weeks of chasing KRA, "kuja next week", "angalia Monday", "mwenye kusign akoinje" etc etc. Obviously I lost the sale. The prospective buyer got tired of waiting and bought another vehicle from somebody else that did have a logbook. It ended up taking me about 3 months to sell the vehicle. At a significantly lower price than I had agreed with the first buyer. Infact by the time the logbook arrived, car registrations had moved forward (from KBD to KBE) which further weakened my negotiating position.

For Kshs 2-3000, I could have had the logbook 'pushed' and had it within a week. My profit would have been higher and I would have been able to reinvest the funds to import another car. GoK would have collected more tax and I would have earned more for the period.

Inefficiency literally took money out of my pocket, food out of my stomach and funds away from the exchequer!

Given a choice between bribing and starving, the vast majority of human beings will pay a bribe everytime no matter how many "Corruption is Evil" posters are hanging about the place. Inefficiency is like a noose around the neck of any business that has to deal with GoK for its operations. It strangles the life out of businesses.

2. Secret/Complex/Convoluted Processes and Procedures, No accountability
Coupled with inefficiency, having overly, unnecessarily complex, convoluted and secret processes and procedures contributes greatly to allowing corruption to take place and thrive.

Suppose I knew the exact steps my logbook goes through before it is dispatched to me. Now, suppose I also knew which officer is in charge at every step of the way and knew how long each step is supposed to take. Suppose I was provided with the contacts of the officer whose duty it is to oversee the whole process..and his superior and their superior and so on right to the very top of the organisation. The knowledge would empower the public to know exactly how long the process will take and who to contact when things go wrong.

Currently any queries directed at public sector about items being processed yields vague explanations. I remember being told my new passport was ready, going over to Nyayo House and being told that whereas it was indeed ready "bado haijateremka".

In the absence of having systems and processes the public has maximum confidence in; and in light of the corruption problem we have, I believe that we need to radically simplify our processes and procedures AND publicize them.

Fighting corruption in isolation and trying to appeal to our sense of honour with emotional campaigns will not in itself get us any closer to eradicating the problem. We have to reform our systems and processes to ensure that wananchi understand the processes and are getting speedy and efficient service.

Let us carefully examine all our systems and processes, remove unnecessary steps, enable the public to access ALL relevant information about the process and I can all but guarantee there will be a significant fall in corruption.

Because officers have profited from corruption for so long, they are often going to be resistant to changes that enhance efficiency of the system (which would close their earning avenues). This means that the changes have to come from the top. It actually offends me when someone like MG Waweru (CG of KRA) says that 'the public is also at fault for corruption'. Technically it's true, but he needs to be looking at the systems and procedures in place at the organization he heads because his corrupt officer and I might be cogs in the wheel of corruption but the problem starts and ends with the system.

Corruption thrives in the dark, away from scrutiny and in complex, inefficient and convoluted systems. Once we eliminate its natural habitat, corruption will die.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Road Problems..Simple Solution

I was watching Louis Otieno Live last week when they were in Mombasa talking about roads. The guests were the Mombasa Council town clerk (I forget his name), the roads assistant minister, Dr Machage, the Whitesands Hotel General Manager (I believe his name is Mohammed Hersi).

Truck drivers, truck owners and matatu drivers were also represented in the audience. As you'd expected, there was alot of back and forth about whose fault the poor road network is: Government blamed truckers (overloading) and truck drivers (agreeing to drive overloaded trucks), truckers blamed government (constructing poor roads), truck drivers blamed truck owners (threatening them with the sack if they refuse to drive overloaded vehicles) and government (cracking down on drivers who have no option but to drive trucks for fear of losing their jobs) etc etc.

The Whitesands GM, Mohammed Hersi then suggested something that made lots of sense to me:
Effecting a system of bans for vehicles that flout rules. Very simple and I think it would be very effective. It would work thus:
If a truck is found overloading or a matatu is found flouting rules, the vehicle is taken of the road for a given amount of time...say a week, two weeks, a month or whatever.
His argument was that as soon as it becomes clear that vehicles caught flouting rules are going to suffer a significant loss of income, owners and drivers will take a more active interest in ensuring rules are followed. "Hit rulebreakers where it hurts..their pockets".

The more I think about it, the more I believe that we do need to take this sort of approach. It would shift some of the responsibility for ensuring comnpliance away from police and over to owners of vehicles and by extension, the people they employ to operate their vehicles.

For some reason, this idea appeals to me even more than heavy fines. It just seems simpler; easier to understand & easier to institute. I think the fact that this particular punishment requires no input from the vehicle owner makes it attractive. Whereas someone may lack the funds to pay a fine immediately, a ban is lost income.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Road that Corruption Built...

This is Kigwa Road/Ridgeways Road in Ridgeways. Sometime in 2006 or 2007, the NCC tendered for the rehabilitation of this road, along with recarpeting of Garden Estate Road.

The tender was won by a company called Rawford Ltd (or Rawford Construction). Early last year, they started work on the road.

They stripped the little tarmac that remained from the original road (prior to this, the road had not been touched or maintained in any way for over 25 was a mess.)

They then levelled the track and brought in stones for the construction of the new road. Then all work stopped.

Now I hear that Rawford construction was unable to complete work in time and after numerous delays was stripped of the contract and it is going to be re-tendered. I also hear that the company belongs to or is associated with somebody who is/was in the City Council.

As someone jokingly said after driving over the road recently: "If you drive on that track regularly, bits will start falling off your car."

This is one small effect of the corruption, cronyism and nepotism that exists in our institutions. The NCC failed to take care of this road for years and years. And when they finally did do something about it, they were incapable of getting it right first time.

Perhaps it is time we Nairobi residents demanded the right to fix our own roads in lieu of paying land rates (currently illegal I believe). I am sure we would do better.

The NCC has proven itself a total failure. Let them concentrate on painting zebra crossings under footbridges and placing traffic lights where they are never used.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Insania (Kenyan Roads)

A return to the subject of our roads and drivers:

Overlapping: I believe this is a distinctly Kenyan term. I stand to be corrected but we have taken a word and conferred upon it our own meaning. I do not think that there is any other place on earth where the act of overtaking standing traffic and cutting traffic queues is referred to as I say, I stand to be corrected. Anyway, this phenomenon is really getting out of control. We desperately need to clamp down on it. The overlapping culture is a big contributing factor to the chaos and slow moving traffic we see on our roads.

The build quality of our roads is something that irks me greatly. I believe (again, correct me if I'm wrong) that Muranga Road was resurfaced sometime last year. If not, then I would say that it was definitely done within the last two years. Driving along the road today (on the stretch between Muthaiga roundabout and Pangani roundabout, I noticed that the road is already developing potholes. I keep saying that road building is the probably biggest scam perpetrated in Kenya. Roads should not wear out after 2 years. We have become accustomed to the 1-2 year road maintenance cycle in this country, so much so that we barely seem to notice let alone raise our voices when roads develop potholes so quickly. I believe we desperately need to start getting road building right. Too much money and too many man hours are wasted on road building for it to be an annual or bi-annual occurence.

We need an effective mechanical inspection system for vehicles. Driving into and out of town today, I encountered no fewer than three separate broken down vehicles that were blocking traffic. This is unacceptable in our situation. We have an overburdened road system, with too many cars vying for space. We cannot afford to have lanes of traffic blocked by poorly maintained vehicles breaking down. If we can't get inspection right, then we need to have a system in place that ensures stalled vehicles are moved almost immediately.

Police traffic control needs much better coordination and planning. Yes, the police help sometimes, but the adhoc nature of their operations means that they are as likely to help traffic flow as they are to hinder it. They also only selectively enforce road rules which encourages drivers to be indisciplined.

Traffic lights, zebra crossings and lanes need to be better thought out, better planned and better enforced. This week I noticed that the Uhuru Highway/Kenyatta Avenue roundabout lane designation (coming from Westlands) had been changed. The new designation (left lane for left turns only) makes no sense since the right lane is for right turns only (as far as I remember..unless it too was changed). That means that the expectation is that the three lanes after the roundabout will be fed by two lanes i.e. traffic going straight on Uhuru Highway is only supposed to occupy the two centre lanes into the roundabout. Ofcourse all Kenyans ignore lane designations anyway so what difference does it make right? Well if the lanes are so obviously stupid, it encourages people to act like they don't exist which creates disorder.

Placing Zebra Crossings below pedestrain foot bridges is just ridiculous. Nothing could be stupider than spending millions to construct a foot bridge (with the aim of preventing pedestrains from crossing the road and thereby allowing traffic to flow more freely) then painting a zebra crossing underneath the footbridge (to give pedestrians right of way to cross at the spot)...What is the footbridge for? Shade?!

Soon, if reports are to be believed, we are going to be moving from a roundabout system to a traffic light controlled crossroads system. Sounds brilliant..there is just one problem: The current down time of our traffic lights. I think that the failure rate of our traffic lights is way too high at present. As anyone who has tried crossing Gitanga Road to go from Kingara Road to James Gichuru Road will know, Kenyans do not have the temperament to cope with busy uncontrolled crossroads. They just grind traffic from all directions to a complete halt.

More to come...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Two-Way Communication

I think that one initiative we need to start in this country is Ministers and PS's in every ministry having some sort of open day forum once a month. The aim of this would be for the minister/PS to report to the public what their ministry has done in that month, update us on what was done in the previous month and listen to the views & feedback of the public. In a sense show us that they are accountable to us and inform us how they are working for us, what challenges they are facing, how we can help etc

Everyday, I see/meet/hear very bright, passionate individuals who have many wonderful thoughts and suggestions on things that could be done to improve our existence. I think that those running our public institutions need to make a more concerted effort to connect with these people and tap into what they have to offer.

We had the Kenya We Want conference and we have the annual Public Service Open Days but I think that these sorts of events need to be much more frequent and need to be less about PR and more about finding solutions to the problems we face. We need frank, open discussions about all the problems that are afflicting us, we need our public servants to be visibly answerable to us and we need creative, innovative solutions made by us, for us.

I would also suggest using technology. Blogging, online ministry forums (think stockskenya but for ministries) etc. Even if that didn't happen, how about having letter writing competitions..encourage the public to write to ministries and publish the 10 or 20 best letters each month. Make the letters form part of the agenda for the next month so that at each monthly forum, we get status reports on steps taken to address the issues raised in the selected letters from the previous months.

We have to be imaginative about finding ways to accelerate our development. We need to find ways to get all the cleverest people working and thinking and contributing towards making this the country that it could (and should) be.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Is this Negativity?

I have often been accused of being negative about all sorts of things. (Someone on twitter actually said I am "a typical Kenyan always hating on your own" and that I should be proud of what's ours; after all things could be worse (or something to that effect). The person who said this was responding to a statement I made about JKIA Airport (I think I said "it's a dark, dirty hole"....or words to that effect).

I am very critical of the Kibaki administration (I think that they have badly, badly underachieved), I criticize our roads (smooth &'s not rocket science), I criticize service in banks & restaurants...etc etc.

Yes I criticize alot. I fear this may make me a seem to some like a doom and gloom person. Let me set the record straight. I am the biggest optimist imaginable, I genuinely believe that Kenya has got all the potential in the world....what irritates me; what I am critical of is when we do not fulfil that potential or worse still..when we do not even try to fulfil our potential.

Take the example of our airport; Yes, it is small and yes it is old. It is also dark, dingy, dirty, poorly planned and neglected. The first two problems require long term and (possibly) expensive solutions. Is it the same with the last five problems? I do not think so. Our small, old airport should be clean, well lit, well maintained, well laid out and well organized. To say that our airport should be a dump just because it is old and small is defeatist and insulting. Infact, precisely because our airport is old and small, we should make the most of what little space we have available, we should make sure that it is maintained well and kept looking spick and span.

My criticism of the Kibaki administration; yes they have done all sorts of things but ultimately, they have achieved a fraction of what they could and should have achieved had they gone in with any sort of ambition. The wave which swept them into power in 2002 meant that they had the goodwill of the people to really undertake real sustainable reforms in this country. For example; they should have reformed (radically!..not the token reforms we've seen) and streamlined the civil service. They should have radically reformed the judiciary. They did neither. They concentrated their energies on political bickering and instead of a streamlined and efficient civil service, we have the most bloated civil service a time when the country is going broke. Instead of an efficient justice system, we remain in a situation where even the simplest cases often take years to resolve. #Fail.

The point is, I judge us by a high standard. I think that we should be achieving much more, I think that we should be aiming higher and making less excuses.

Kenyans often seem to have this attitude that having an excuse for not achieving is somehow an acceptable substitute to actually achieving. How many times do people promise to deliver on something and instead hand you excuses?

There's a word for people who accept excuses in lieu of results. Losers. We need to get rid of this loser attitude if we are ever to get anywhere. I hate it when we settle for mediocrity and I speak out about it. If that makes me negative, then so be it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Uhuru Budget - Brief Take.

Firstly (and most importantly); I think the devil will be in implementation.

I think it was good to limit vehicles but what system will be put in place for occasions when officials may need 4x4's?

I think that tax reduction is a much more sustainable means of raising living standards than subsidies. However I felt that reducing taxes on cotton while at the same time reducing tax on Mitumba may be contradictory. Tourist vehicles will now be duty free? will these be categorized? Afterall, I believe a large number of tourist vehicles are bought standard and modified locally. (I may be wrong on that)

Sending more funds to constituency level is a good move as it should (theoretically) aid development, spur the constituency economies and increase accountability. I hope the plan includes a system to protect from misappropriation of funds.

Ofcourse, I would have liked to see MPs and constitutional office holders' allowances taxed, and a greater effort at curbing runaway recurrent expenditure.

All in all, I asked for a different budget..and that's what I believe Uhuru delivered. This budget has now placed more onus on the citizens. We need to get out there and start working to exploit the opportunities that have been opened up for us.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Pumbavu?".. maybe not....

Once again, the president was making a speech on a National holiday and felt the need to refer to some of his citizens as "pumbavu" (fools). He was of the opinion that only somebody who is a pumbavu would wake up, plan to go to the event and heckle speeches.

Once again, I saw Wetangula and other ministers telling us that we "must respect our president/ministers/MPs."

Anytime somebody criticizes the president/prime minister/ministers/MPs in public, they are either referred to as disrespectful or dismissed as pumbavu.

I find that distasteful, disappointing, frustrating and worrying for this country.

Lazy leadership, greed, incompetence and failed policies have led this country to the brink of self destruction. We cannot even feed ourselves, the majority of our population lives in poverty, we have sky high unemployment..etc. We, the populace, face many problems and challenges.

Yet our leaders clearly send the message that they have no interest in hearing from us. They cocoon themselves behind bullet-proof glass and 10 foot high electric fences and when they do venture out of their enclaves of luxury and mingle with the common man, they expect us to fawn over them like they are delivering the commandments from the mountaintop.

The heckling and public criticism are a sign of desperation. People do not feel like their government is doing enough to enable them to make a living. Worse than that, people do not feel like they have any means of addressing their leaders about their problems. The common man does not feel like he has any means of honestly and frankly engaging with the people who are running the country. That would be fine if they were doing a great job, but the fact is they are not.

Our infrastructure is still rubbish, bureaucracy and public sector inefficiency are still choking the life out of our businesses and corruption is still like a parasite sucking the life blood out of the country. We are struggling through this...and our 'leaders' are busy fighting amongst themselves over tea and crumpets in 5-star hotels.

I will respect the MPs, ministers and president when they start running the country properly. When they stop wasting public resources, stop bickering over petty issues and get down to addressing the problems we face. I will respect them when they start engaging with us and stop hiding in their cars, houses, offices and behind bodyguards and banks of microphones.

Respect is earned and respect is a two way thing. I refuse to respect somebody just because he is old or has been in politics/government for a long time. I respect results and the fact is our government and politics have failed us thus far.

I have in the past suggested that each minister and PS should have periodic(weekly, maybe monthly) barazas/forums to hear from the public, talk one on one to the public and address issues that are raised.

The president should also do the same.

This would allow for a more constructive back and forth between the public and those entrusted with running government, and help government leaders better understand problems/issues that wananchi have. It would also go some way towards enabling wananchi to feel like their leaders are answerable to them.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

On Second Thoughts...Are we a Failed State?

Last week, I watched Mutula Kilonzo react furiously to the Alston report saying that Alston had overstepped his mandate by writing the things he did about Kenya's systems, police force and attorney general. He went on to emphatically assert that 'Kenya is not a failed state!'

Mutula's response is by no means unique. Anytime a foreigner says anything less than complimentary about Kenya, government types can be counted on to respond with similar arguments..."we are a sovereign country", "what business do foreigners have saying that about us" etc etc.

I agree that we are not Somalia. We are still one nation (just about), we have never had full scale civil war, we still have some form of government, we have not had any coups etc etc. We do not yet meet many of the criteria that may be used to define a 'failed state'.


Can we really be so convinced that we are a success state? I do not think so.

The success or failure of achievements is measured relative to the circumstances within which the achievements are made.

As a country, we have lived a fairly peaceful existence, we inherited fairly decent infrastructure, we have a relatively well educated workforce, we have a fair amount of natural and mineral resources and a good proportion of our land is fertile. We are also fairly strategically placed geographically within the continent.

In short, this country has great potential. Isn't success realizing (or surpassing) potential? Are we realizing our potential? Can we therefore really say that we are not currently failing? Can we honestly say that we are (and have been) making the most of what we have? Absolutely not! We have chronically underachieved. Therefore at this moment in time, we are a failure.

We need to acknowledge that and change our attitudes to reflect that fact and get down to the business of fixing the problem(s).

Rather than 'shooting the messenger' when outsiders talk about us, we should listen to what they say, pick the points that are important and set about fixing them. Whether or not Alston or Annan or Rannenberger et al over-step their mandates is immaterial to me.

What is material is whether any of the observations they make are valid. Is our police force corrupt? Is our police commisioner complicit in killings? Is our attorney general's office inept? What is being done/is going to be done to repair these problems? Those are the issues I believe our government should be addressing whenever they refer to utterances/reports etc.

We need to concentrate our energies on establishing our independence and sovereignity by fulfilling our potential not by posturing like peacocks when sooner or later we are going to be reduced to going begging to the same people for food aid because we cannot feed ourselves. We may disagree with how a message is delivered but we have to take it on the chin and deal with what the message is. After all, we find ourselves in this position due to an abject failure to become self sufficient in the first place.

It doesn't matter where a message comes from, if that message has any iota of validity, if the message can help us improve in any way, then we need to learn to quickly and quietly take what's relevant to us and apply it for the betterment of the country and her people.

When we have improved and become an effective, self sufficient country that is fulfilling its potential, then we can seek to redefine our engagement with our 'development partners'.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The T Spot, Savannah, Java....

I just came from a meeting at the T Spot. The service we received was shocking!

A friend ordered a burger with fries and tea. His tea arrived AFTER his food. I ordered tea (after waiting for 20 minutes), I got a mochachino. Those are just two examples of what was an all round terrible experience at the place. Service was slow, sullen, rude and incompetent.

Prior to shifting our periodic meetings to the T-Spot, we used to meet at Savannah, Museum Hill. We moved because their service is also terrible and additionally they have a very limited menu that is often executed poorly.

I went to Java, Gigiri last week. Walked in, sat in the booth in the corner, turned on my computer and started working on something. I sat for 10 - 15 minutes without a single waiter approaching me. I eventually called one over and asked for what I wanted. She went off and never came back. I waited 10 more minutes before calling another waiter and making my order. I sat for half an hour in a restaurant with no waiter approaching me! It was not an especially busy time, the waiters were milling about chatting and joking amongst themselves.

Who trains the waiters in these places? It is all well and good investing millions to build a swanky looking place but the the same sort of thought and effort needs to go into ensuring that the customers experience is a good one. Equally important, the same thought and effort needs to go into maintaining standards. When I first visited each of these establishments, the service was excellent. Standards at each of them have gotten progressively worse.

And one last thing....the next time a waiter reaches over my food/drink I just might snap!

Restaurant managers....Smile, be polite, be quick, get orders correct first time and never....NEVER reach over the patrons dish. 5 simple rules that you should train your staff to live by.

Name change

Hear ye hear ye...."Mystery Shopper" is no more. I will now be blogging as KW.

Reason?...I guess I just grew tired of the pseudonym. It seemed like a good idea at the time but the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. Hopefully this will be the last such change...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rain. Our Gift.....Our Curse?

Sometime ago, Alfred Mutua did something that I totally agreed with. (Ironically his superiors really tore him a new one for doing so). Just before the Cross Country championships were to be held in Mombasa, he toured the area, went on a little power trip and had contractors arrested for "doing shoddy work"

The contactors were doing the area roads and when Mutua toured the place, he found newly 'repaired' roads had already developed potholes. He (quite rightly I think) had the contractors arrested and I remember him asking whether there was no rain in other parts of the world since in many other places roads don't spontaneously disappear at the first hint of precipitation.

Well, as I write this, I am sitting in the dark due to one of the recently frequent power failures my neighbourhood has experienced since the start of the rainy season. I have heard the same complaint from numerous other people.

Kenya has an agriculture based economy. One that is almost entirely reliant on rainfall. When rains fail we face rising food prices, rising inflation and even starvation in certain areas.

However it would seem that as far as rain is concerned we are screwed if it fails, screwed if it falls. Because rain invariably means that our infrastructure falls apart. Roads that had been tarmaced develop potholes, electricity supply that had become relatively reliable suddenly becomes erratic.

So the arrival of rain means that the cost of transporting produce will rise, because when the roads fall apart, transporters will have to raise prices to pay for repairs. When the electricity supply becomes erratic, industries will either stop work or have to invest in generators. The net positives that come from rain outweigh the negatives but it seems like a two steps forward, one step back sort of scenario.

If we are ever to start on the path to real development, I think the first step has to be to break out of this cycle.

In this article, Sunny Bindra speaks about how peculiar it is that Kenyan roads are recarpeted so often and more importantly how peculiar it is that Kenyans think this is a good thing. I have previously written about how I think 'road building' just might be the biggest scam in Kenya and because we spend gazillions doing and redoing our roads.

We desperately need to build roads that last, so that we can funnel the funds being used to recarpet and re-recarpet our roads to other areas of development and to increasing our road network (which embarrassingly is basically what it was at independence). We need our electricity supply to be totally reliable so that we can go about being productive without having to invest in generators.

I realize I have not even mentioned flooding and it's effects in this post.....

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Having been through what I have been through in my journey to become successfully self employed I have decided that I really would like to do the following someday (possibly as my version of CSR):

Start a not-for-profit One Stop Business Resource, Advisory and Mentorship Centre.

I would like it to be a place where anyone interested in entrepreneurship can go to learn about doing business, get help creating a feasible business plan, get help finding funding for their business idea and get mentorship and guidance to assist them get their business up and running.

It would also have regular educational talks and seminars from professionals, bankers and business people to educate participants about doing business, business finances and other aspects of business.

It would have close ties to banks, prospective investors and venture capitalists to help good ideas find funding.

Perhaps it could be set up to have a fund (donor, government and/or corporate funded) to underwrite any loan defaults.

Perhaps it could also be set up to receive some percentage of successful businesses earnings (from 'graduates') for some period in order to pay for its operations and a commitment from proprietors of successful businesses to stay involved and also mentor other aspiring entrepreneurs as well.

etc etc.

The general idea is to have a place where potential entrepreneurs can get

1. Information (about all aspects of doing business)
2. Financing
3. Mentorship & Support

all under one roof.

That will be my CSR.

Self Employment?...Why?

Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to start and build my own business as opposed to be employed. I was always advised that actually "it is better to work for 5-10 years THEN go into business for yourself if you still want to do so". The reason given for this is often that one needs to gain experience before they start a business. I was also told that starting a business is very difficult and it is hell finding capital and every mistake costs you money and so on and so forth.

I disagree with this notion for a few reasons:
Firstly; one of my reasons for wanting to be in business is I want to rely on myself. I want to build something that is going to sustain me and my family in comfort irrespective of economic situation and other external factors. I don't want my fortunes to be tied to the decisions that somebody else makes.

Secondly; I didn't do that well in school. Never have. I am average student at best. This does not in any way reflect how intelligent I am. I think that some people are just not made for this formal schooling thing. Sometimes I wish I skipped the whole uni thing and jumped into the business struggle straight out of high school. Ofcourse, despite not setting the halls of uni alight academically, that period was fantastic for me in terms of exposure and helping me to form many of my ideas. Ironically, I am a fantastic employee. Somehow, my competitive juices just start flowing when I am in a work environment.

Thirdly; I feel like the whole "work for sometime and start your business when you're more secure/have more experience/have more resources" thing is a myth. It may work out that way sometimes but that course also comes with its own speedbumps. I have watched people who have done that and still struggled for a couple of years to set up their businesses, I have seen 'experienced' people also often need a learning period after coming out of employment.

I in no way expected my chosen course to be easy. I am fully prepared to struggle, fail, fall and make mistakes, have periods of self doubt etc etc. But I think that the experience gained from taking this course will serve me well. My course is basically a wager that by the time I am 35 or 40, I will be further along the road to self sufficient success than the guy who worked for 10-15 years and decided to quite at 35 or 40. I guess only time will tell, but I'm glad I am in the driving seat.

Importantly, I also want to struggle now, while I am young and before I have a family to cater to. I want my learning curve to be over and done with by the time I have sons, daughters and a wife to look after. I would rather go through this struggle today than 10 years from now when any failure or mistake will affect not just me but others who rely on me and who look up to me to provide for them.

All the above arguments do not even factor in the practical reality that it is now harder than ever to get a good job in Kenya.

Anyway..coming up soon, I will talk about some of what I have seen in trying to go on this path and what I have decided will be my CSR when I do take hudumabora inc. to the bigtime (Actually this post started as that but I got carried away with background).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Name Game

I need to start keeping note of names of all the customer facing staff I deal with. I am forever getting sent on wild goose chases due to wrong information but I rarely know the names of the people who bend me over. This must change now! I will know the names of all the incompetent morons who feed me wrong information and I will henceforth be putting them on blast in any and every way I can. I am sick to death of this sh**!!!

Emirates/KCB Offer - Mission Impossible

On Wednesday 25th March I received an email from Loise Mucheru of KCB. It read as follows: (verbatim)

Use your KCB VISA / MasterCard and enjoy a 10% discount on every purchase of Emirate’s ticket: to London, Dubai, Istanbul, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Seoul. This special offer is on all bookings made before 19th June 2009. Use your KCB card, the preferred card.

This was great news for me as I had a planned trip coming up and I just so happen to also have a KCB Mastercard.

On Tuesday 14th April, I started the booking process for the trip. I went online, checked fares etc then made my way to the Emirates offices at Anniversary Towers to book my ticket. My intention was to reserve the ticket and pay for it towards the end of the week. (I tend to prefer making reservations at the ticket offices because up until recently online reservations tended to cancel themselves after a day or so. I also prefer dealing with a real life person).

Anyway, the lady checks prices and the quote for my journey came up about 5 or 10% more expensive than the quote I had found on the airline website. This I was told was because there is a special online booking discount. I was advised to go book my itinerary online and choose the 'Pick ticket from local office' option, then return to the office when I was ready to make my payment. I mentioned to the lady (twice!) that I intended to pay using a KCB credit card to take advantage of the 10% discount offer. I asked her whether this only applied to online bookings or to ALL bookings. She informed me both times that it applies to all bookings. She assured me that it would be no problem whatsoever to pay at their offices and the discount would be applied irrespective.

I went online and did as instructed. Booked itinerary, seats, meal preferences and picked the 'collect tickets' option and was given until Sunday 19th April to pay for the ticket.

The only hurdle that paying by KCB credit card presented for me was that my credit limit would not cover the cost of the ticket. So on Friday (17th April), head off to my KCB branch (VM) and ask 3 different people whether if I paid more than was due on my credit card (i.e. paid the card into debit), I would have any problems. They said all said no. After I had deposited the money, I called KCB card centre to notify them of the payment I had made and again clarified that it was all good regarding payments. No hint of any trouble from that front either. No mention of any transaction limit.

So today I head over to Emirates offices to pay for my ticket and collect it. Guess what?..."THE 10% DISCOUNT ONLY APPLIES TO ONLINE PAYMENTS". I am advised to go online, make a fresh booking and then cancel the old booking afterwards. I go off and try to do so and my transaction keeps getting declined.

So I call KCB card centre and get told that my card has an online transaction limit...and that any request to increase that limit must be made in writing..on Monday!! Reason being no managers are present over the weekend who can authorise such a transaction. The only people working on Saturdays are the authorisations team who ironically cannot authorise my purchase.

At this moment (8.30pm, Saturday 18th) I have made about 10 phone calls to KCB Card Centre authorisations, sent 3 emails AND hand delivered a letter to them in Sarit to raise the limit and let me complete my transaction. I have to say they have been very helpful and have promised to try get someone in tomorrow morning to sort me out.

The people I blame for this..other than myself for leaving the whole thing so late (not really my fault ticket booking was contingent on a payment I was waiting for that I only received on Friday) are Emirates ticketing and reservations staff.

They have screwed me good and proper by giving me totally wrong information again and again.

I will eventually get the problem sorted out and buy my discounted ticket and make my trip (maybe a day or two late)..but it has really been a big inconvenience and a very aggravating experience for me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

How to get Kenya's Obama Elected (A layman's view)

In this post, I touted Edwin Macharia as Kenya's own potential Obama. It got me thinking...Assuming he was interested in gunning for the top job in 2012. How could he (or any other new face with presidential ambitions for that matter) go about it?

(Disclaimer: This is purely from a layman point of view..more experienced political minds can feel free to point out any deficiencies or better yet add on their ideas):

In no particular order:

1. Differentiation: He should totally differentiate himself from the current system. He should go out of his way to portray himself as coming from outside the system. He should be aiming to form his own political party and not join any of the existing ones. He should market his party as the youth vehicle. 

2. Build a Good, Diverse Team: He should build a team of intelligent, ambitious, passionate people, preferably young (but not necessarily so). Countrywide. If possible as many of these people should also be fresh faces. He should recruit people who will really believe in him and his message and vision for the country. Ofcourse in a democracy you cant necessarily pick who will follow you but that is why it would be important to pick the right people to begin with. 

3. Craft a strong issue based, national message, Sell the message: He has a good grasp of issues, policies and the effect they have on the populace at large. Together with his team, he can refine his ideas and craft them into something marketable to Kenyans from all corners of the country. Firstly he has to sell the vision to his team, make sure they are really on board, really believe in the message, then send out the team to start spreading that message. Each region will have the message tailor-made to appeal to them but by and large it will be a national message. Part of the remit of this will include educating the populace about what the effects of certain things are (bad policies, vote selling etc). 

4. Go grassroots, stay on message: Have his team out there selling him at the grassroots. Make periodic visits to all areas to meet and connect with the people.

5. Use technology: To keep in contact with the team, to keep his finger on the pulse, to help get his message out there and for fundraising. 

6. Start now....but start under the radar: Start building his team now. Start finding like minded individuals across the country, approach them, sell them his vision, get them onboard. Get them really believing and then get them out there slowly recruiting more like minded folks. The next year or two should be spent quietly building his team and network (people and funds). By mid 2011 or so, he should aim to have a strong national network and a good fundraising mechanism, ready for the beginning of active campaigning.    

Some points are repetitive and I'm sure there's some things I've missed out but that's what I could think of off the top of my head. 

In my view, the current environment in Kenya presents a good opportunity for a new face who can get out there and galvanise Kenyans (specifically the youth) around them. It's still early but if we have such an individual he/she needs to start planning and working towards it now. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

Kenya's own Barack Obama?...

This is Edwin Macharia (picture from In 2007, he ran for the Kieni seat against Chris Murungaru and eventual winner Nemesyus Warugongo.

I have seen this guy on the 'Louis Otieno Live' tv show a few times, most recently last night and he never fails to impress me.

He's very smart, knowledgeable, articulate and seems to have clear ideas about how this country needs to move forward.

Mutahi Ngunyi speaking on Capital Talk last night made a sad yet valid point in reference to why we wind up with such bad political leaders. He said that "the problem we have in this country is that the men and women of good intention have no passion but those of bad intention have lots of passion".

Hearing Edwin speak, I would say that this is a young man of good intention who has plenty of passion.

I am glad losing in Kieni did not make him give up on politics because this is the sort of leader I think we really need to have in this country.

Do look out for this guy because I genuinely think that he could be Kenya's own Barack Obama.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Publicize ALL Public Works Contracts

Every time I drive around and see a newly repaired road that has all but disintegrated at the first sign of precipitation, I find myself wondering what the design criteria for the road was, who was in charge of inspecting the construction works to ensure the road is built/repaired to the required standard, what was paid for the road building/repair etc.

I personally think that road building is the biggest scam in Kenya and has been for some time. I find the standard of road building poor. Roads often fall apart within one or two years. The standard of road repair is also abyssmal meaning that once the road gets potholes after its one year of service, the repairs that are done leave a terribly rutted and uneven surface. Roads are supposed to be smooth. How many of our roads fit that description?

I think that one measure that could be instituted to increase accountability with roads (and other public works projects) is to publicize the roads building and maintenance contracts. By publicize, I don't mean have a board hidden behind a tree with microscopic writing on it placed at some random location miles from where the actual work is to take place, I mean have full details of the contracts either put out in the press or better yet on the Ministries websites. The following could be included:

  • Cost of the project
  • Full Design Criteria
  • Time to Completion
  • Company undertaking Project
  • Reasons for company being awarded tender
  • Inspection methodology
  • Name of official incharge of inspection for the particular project
  • Penalties for failure to meet deadlines both for contactor as well as GoK
  • etc etc

For example, we the public should be made aware that Thika Road is being built by Con Struct Ltd at a cost of 2 billion over a timespan of 2 years with a handover date of xx/xx/20xx. We should be made aware that the contract includes building drainage and culverts and a layer of tarmac at least 5 inches thick with the road expected to have a lifespan of at least 20 years and that I.N Spector is in charge of inspecting the project to ensure that its being built to the correct spec, will conduct monthly inspections and for every month behind schedule the project is the contractor loses 10 million..etc etc....if the public is aware what our tax shillings are being used for, it would further incentivize GoK and contractors to ensure we get value for money. 

I think that taking this approach may help towards ensuring that we finally start getting value for our tax money where public works projects are concerned.

Edit: The following two key points from Bankelele would also go some great way to adding to accountability:
- publish the names of all company directors' that are given government contracts. If a company does not perform it gets blacklisted, along with its directors
- reverse the Ndegwa commission rules and re-instate ban civil servants from engaging in private business

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Inefficiency breeds Corruption - Kilindini Port

I am sure it is not a new argument to put forth but I think that the majority of corruption in Kenya is largely due to inefficient/non transparent systems.

The corruption is merely a symptom of of the above illness.

I just cleared some items from the port of Mombasa. Due to a problem with KPA's computers about two or so weeks ago, Clearing Agents were unable to generate IDF's for about 10 days. (IDF stands for Import Declaration Form - the document that is used to inform Customs about the import..without one your goods cannot be processed through customs).

Because of this problem, no goods were cleared from the port for about a week or so. This obviously caused a backlog and meant that the goods I was having cleared not only sat in the port for 10 extra days but were delivered to me damaged. (I cannot prove the damage was actually sustained in Mombasa but as I personally delivered the goods to the ship on the other end, and my agent informs me that they were damaged when they were leaving the port, my suspicion is that they sustained the damage while sitting in the port).

I estimate that repairing the damage will cost me at least 70-80,000 Kshs.

Upon taking a look at the invoice from my clearing agent, I noticed some entries called 'incidentals'. Turns out this is just a euphemism for bribes. Seems that despite my goods sitting in port for 10 extra days, my agent still had to 'move' the process along otherwise my goods would have been there forever..incurring further costs in form of port charges etc and risking even further damage to my products.

If our port system was not only efficient but transparent, it would limit the leeway available for people to seek/demand bribes for offering services that they are paid to offer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MP's Humbly Request Pay Rise

The nerve!

'Mr Midiwo said given the current rate of inflation, since the last review, Sh1.5 million would be “the reasonable figure” that MPs should be taking home.'

'Mr Midiwo termed last year's budget proposal to have MPs’ allowances taxed as “mischievous and cheap politics” meant to set the public against the National Assembly.'

Coming at a time when GOK is admittedly broke and when millions of Kenyans are starving, this is really in bad taste.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Long Rains

We've been warned.

From NTV News yesterday (sorry couldn't find the clip online):

The long rains are expected to start in the next two or so weeks. A few parts of the country will experience increased levels of rainfall (more than usual/expected) but most parts of the country will experience depressed levels of rainfall (less than usual/expected). Areas like Eastern, Central and North Eastern will fall in the latter category, with areas around Lake Victoria falling into the the former category.

Despite the depressed nature of the rainfall, meteorologists still expect some storms to occur so flood prone areas are at risk of experiencing flooding.

Advice from the meteorologists to farmers was to plant crops that will not require very much water and that mature fast so that we do not find ourselves in a drought situation later in the year.

This is a critical piece of information and should be placed top of everybody's agenda.

  • Our Agricultural Ministry should be going round passing this advice to farmers; so too our leaders.
  • Our disaster management authorities and local authorities in flood prone areas should be on the ground now taking measures to avoid catastrophic flooding and ensuring preparedness if such flooding does occur.
  • Our water authorities around the country should be putting measures in place to harvest water and should pass some tips to the populace to do the same. We as the populace should also get the ball rolling, lets start talking about it and discussing it. Let TV stations carry stories on it. We need to harvest and conserve whatever water we get in the form of these rains.
  • Local authorities should be unblocking drainages to ensure that road works done over the dry season are not immediately undone by the rains.
  • Individually we should also be buying our umbrellas, car wipers etc now rather than wait til the rain arrives and the prices are increased by 20-30% or more.

Those are just a few of the top of my head but the point is we have afford to be caught napping when these rains do come. We've been warned.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Originality and Creativity: Status...idle

I don't understand why we have such bad and boring adverts aired on our local television stations. I sometimes wonder if this is depictive of the Kenya we have (as opposed to the Kenya we want). According to Mystery Shopper public institutions should be smart and creative (amongst other things) however, even private institutions sometimes fail to be smart and creative. I mean if an advert is supposed to influence or persuade someone - a potential customer to buy a certain product, then the ones I have been watching on TV are doing a dismal job. They are often so uncreative that I watch them thinking of how they can be improved. To this day I only have four adverts that I like; Sunlight bar soap (an old one that was aired years ago and is no longer being aired); the colorful Vuka-2 advert (the newest one for the Vuka product from Zain), the Auto Assured advert of a man removing a spec of dirt from one of his car tires with what seems to be his wife's tooth-brush and lastly; the Eveready Battery Advert, where a certain night watchman ties his torch (flash-light) on string which is hanging from a tree and leaves it on all night, hops onto his bicycle, goes to his home to sleep then goes back to the house he works at in the morning to ‘sign-out’ of work.

All sectors private or public, all industries small or big should think out the box and be innovative. This would improve competitiveness in the business environment and stop this current practice we see where new products seem to copy old existing ones in terms of branding, colours and even names. I guess their aim is to try and confuse people into buying the new product but I don't think this is a good marketing strategy. Examples? Blue Band margarine; a product by Unilever that has been in the market for many years, new entrant; Bidco’s Gold Band notice the word ‘band’? Need another example? How about Cadbury’s Drinking chocolate? New entrant; Raha; uses very similar packaging down to the colour! I am sure there are many more products that have fallen victim to this sad phenomenon. What’s that about??? Where is originality, creativity and innovation??? This is definitely not the Kenya I want.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"At Least We're not as Bad as......."

Often when politicians in government and government employees like PS's are interviewed on corruption scandals, poor service delivery, inefficiency etc, they will say things like "even the west has scandals", "country 'a' (usually USA/UK/Germany or some other 'developed country') is just as bad/worse, "at least we are not as bad as country d (usually Somalia)" etc etc.

I find this argument counter productive at best; damaging and insulting at worst.

Rather than consoling ourselves with what is rubbish or average, we need to be benchmarking ourselves with what is the very best in the world. If our quest is truly to make this country great, we do not have the luxury of patting ourselves on the back because others have bigger scandals or worse roads or slower service provision.

The developed economies can absorb some corruption and they can absorb some inefficiency.

Our government needs to realize that ours cannot; that one shilling has far greater significance to Kenya and to a Kenyan than it does to the US or UK or Saudi Arabia and to their citizens.

Comparing us and our scandals/inefficiency to them and theirs is abit like me comparing losing a million of my shillings to Chris Kirubi losing a million of his. The loss of the million would cripple me financially, it would probably not even dent his bank balance.

So whereas CK can be extravagant, cavalier and don't care with his resources, I cannot afford to be the same with mine.

I think that each and every one of our Government departments/parastatals/councils and tax spending organizations should be looking at who is the best at doing what they do in the world and replicating or surpassing that for Kenyans.

Our vehicle registration department, for example, should not concern itself with how bad Italy's vehicle registration system is, but with which country's vehicle registration system is the best and how we in Kenya can copy, adapt and implement a system of our own that is either to that standard or better. I don't care if the registration department in question is in the US, Bahrain, Rwanda or Tibet.

Great people do not become great by being average..they out-hustle, out-think, out-try and out-fight average people. Similarly if we want our country to be great, then we are going to have to aim for much higher than average. I would like to see this reflected in the things our ministers/PS's and others say and do.

Uhuru Highway...again

In this post, I expressed the hope that following the re-carpeting of Uhuru Highway, the contractors would smooth out the 'bumps' that have effectively been created at every junction where there is a height difference between the old and new layers of tarmac. To date this has not occurred.

I am sincerely hoping it won't be the case but I am increasingly starting to think that things are going to be left as they are. These bumps slow down traffic and create artificial bottlenecks. One thing we really, really do not need on our city centre roads is more bottlenecks.

My fingers are crossed that this will be addressed soon as it would be totally infuriating if having taken away one source of traffic jams by fixing the road, the powers that be introduce another in the form of these bottlenecks.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mr/Ms Nairobi Driver.....

Dear Kenyan,

You're driving towards the National Museum from town at rush hour. The route most would take is along Uhuru Highway - Museum Hill roundabout - Museum Hill. Yes?

Ofcourse there's plenty of traffic joining the Museum Hill roundabout..especially in the innermost lane. Infact the line in that lane is significantly longer and slower than the other two lanes.

Do you:

a) Join the queue and hope the police at the roundabout are helping rather than hurting traffic flow today or

b) Chuckle at all the losers queuing in a slow lane, zoom past and try to squeeze in at, or near the roundabout.

Those that would pick (b), I have this to say to you:

It is likely that you are amongst those who watch news/read newspapers and shake your head at how much our selfish/thieving leaders are ruining our country.

At some level Mr/Ms queue jumper, you are William Ruto/Yagnesh Devani or whoever you are lamenting about's why:

What you do everyday at Museum Hill roundabout (and countless other roads across Nairobi) is advance your own selfish interests in a manner that is detrimental to the greater good of the society in which you exist.

The 'losers' in the queue are also tired/just want to get home/have kids to pick from school/meetings to attend/places to get to etc. They are also frustrated and fed up with our traffic, our police (who are as likely to worsen traffic flow as to make it better) and the 'other' drivers who behave like maniacs. But they queue anyway.

I'm sure you'll say its no big deal, that I'm making too much of it, that it does not harm anyone..but I beg to differ. You're actions slow down traffic flow and contribute to the congestion. It is in large part because of you and others like you that the innermost lane is so clogged and moving so slowly. I can guarantee you if nobody did what you chose to do, that queue would move much quicker and the vast majority of us would get where we are going a lot faster. Therefore my friend, what you are doing amounts to stealing our time...which means that you are stealing our money. But you don't care about that do you? You have places to go/things to do that are much more important than anything all the others have to do right? can get away with it.

Yagnesh, Ruto etc do the stuff you complain about because they KNOW they will get away with it. So ask yourself again as you zoom past the losers in the slow lane...if you KNEW you could get away with stealing 1 or 2, 4 or 8 billion from innocent Kenyan taxpayers...would you do it?

I am inclined to think that in many cases the answer would be 'yes' for many of you chronic 'petty' traffic offenders. You won't say it out loud but your actions on a daily basis say much more than your loud lamentations.

Therefore your complaint is less about the dishonesty and immorality that you see/hear about in news everyday and more about the fact that you have not had the opportunity that the Pattnis and Too's of this world have had.

You will probably find it extreme and offensive that I would draw such conclusions about you from such a small act but your small act is symptomatic of the ills you complain about in our society.

So, Dear Sir/Madam, please think carefully about your actions on the road and act in a way that not only benefits society, but will also, more importantly, convey whatever message you wish to give about the sort of person you really are.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Travel Post 1 - The airports

After the great passport fiasco of 2008, the time came for me to strap on my parachute.

My itinerary was JKIA - DXB - LHR.

Its been said time and time and time again (often as you'll notice by Cold Tusker) that JKIA is a hole. It is. There's no other way to put it. It is dark, cramped, shabby and really quite dirty.

Yes..the airport is old and we either need an upgrade/expansion/renovation or a whole new airport but I personally do not think that we are making anywhere near the most of what we do have at the moment. For example, there is no reason whatsoever for the place to be so disgustingly dirty. The fixtures and fittings are of the very lowest quality and standard and are falling apart, the place is packed with many tiny shops that all seem to do the same 2 or 3 things....alcohol, perfumes, chocolates, curios (and often have no staff manning them), at arrivals passport control there were boxes and other crap spilling out of the some cupboard off to the side...I mean its just generally terribly shabby and tacky...there's a real low rent feel to the place....from the wobbly writing stand provided for filling in departure cards to the 'burglar proofing chic' look that seems to have been the design brief for the place. Its a sad and pathetic airport that conveys lack of care, planning or any sort of ambition.

Oh my wow! One thing that you definitely cannot say about Dubai airport is that whoever it belongs to is lacking ambition. I did not think that the old terminal (Terminal 1) was anything to scoff at, but the new terminal (Terminal 3) is phenomenal..if only for its sheer size. I walked over to Terminal 1 and by comparison it now seems small, stuffy, crowded and very underwhelming. Of course with Dubai, there's often the impression that they have perfected the art of the super glossy veneer that hides a fairly average if not tacky underbelly (and there are hints of it when you peep into certain nooks and crannies) but all in all it is a very nice place to transit through.

The shops are huge, the staff are plentiful and super attentive and the selection of certain things (alcohol, fragrances to name a couple) is just confusing. Nice space, seemingly well thought out, well planned, well trained and ample staff and a feeling that all aspects within it work in airport management, airline management and duty free management.

London impressions...nice lights illuminating their Terminal 3 building (also has a nice exterior quadrangle) and crowded.... Badly crowded and quite cramped.

Its not as bad as JKIA in that the shops are pretty okay and presented well and it is not as (evidently) filthy but it also gives the impression of being an airport that is stretched to its very limits.

NTV news, KTN news

To quote a Bernie Mac line......"I'm sick a' this sh**"...

During yesterdays NTV news bulletin at 9, I noticed two misspellings that should not have been there. They spelled Bonny Khalwale's name wrong when they were interviewing him (I think they interviewed a fellow called Khawalale or something) and they were talking about 'draw dawn' (rather than draw down) at the KPC in their oil shortage story.

I notice these sorts of very basic mistakes all the time on NTV news...especially with the written information that accompanies their stories or the stuff that scrolls at the bottom of the screen throughout the news bulletin. It always makes me wonder....who the hell is in charge of editing and ensuring that they transmit stuff that is at the very least grammatically correct? Is he/she Linus Gitahi's brother/wife? Why else would they even still have the job when its been shown that they are not doing it?

What is the hiring criteria for reporters, copy writers etc at our local stations? Do you just have to have two eyes, two hands and a voice? How else could someone like Larry..........................................................(pause)...................................................Madowo be a reporter? Who told the dude that pausing for a minute between his first and last names was cool, interesting, funny or clever? How does his boss allow it? Is it a private running joke at the station?

There are also often grammatical errors, nonsensical sentences, mispronounced words and the content and flow of many stories is quite poor.

And when and why did they start cutting to reporters on their own offices!!!! Whats is the logic of having Rob Nagila provide the vocal for a story with all its various graphics and clips, then cut to him... standing in the NTV office, mic in hand to give us the story outro. If the story did not include a reporter reporting from a related location, why not just end the clip with dude saying his name..sight unseen?

As for the KTN news coverage, they also make the same basic mistakes, but what really gets my goat is their introduction to the news where they basically get on their soapbox for 2 minutes and tell us what they think/prescribe/recommend about goings on of the day/week/month. Why??!! I watch the news to see what's happening not to hear what the powers that be at KTN think about it. If they want to give us their opinion, they should create a whole different show...maybe call it 'KTN Thinks....' or something similar...or perhaps have an editorial segment after the news where they discuss the days news and their opinion on it. Why is the segment at the very top of the show? Do they think that their opinion about the day's news is more important than the actual news??

Strangely enough, I don't really watch much Citizen or K24 news despite my obvious irritation with the big boys news bulletins. Is their news coverage any better?