Parties, cars, curtains: Kenyans upset by govt spending spreeSun, 03 Mar 2024 07:20:55 GMT

Expensive curtains, lavish garden parties and jet-setting lifestyles: Kenya’s cash-strapped government has been on a spending spree even as austerity measures take their toll on weary citizens.A report released by the country’s auditor generallast month said the office of the deputy president spent 10.2 million shillings ($70,000) on curtains while splashing out on furniture to the tune of some $50,000.The purchases, which were “in breach of the law” for flouting procurement rules, according to the report,have struck a nerve with an angry public.”They have squeezed my finances to the limit as they drink and dine,” Kenyan teacher Moses Bett told AFP in the capital NairobiThe East African powerhouse — where corruption is a hot-button issue — raised taxes to shore up revenue for government debt repayments even as many citizens were already struggling with the high prices of basic commodities.”I am living on negatives,” Bett said, patting the front pockets of his charcoal grey trousers. “Every day is becoming more difficult to fend for my family with what is left of my salary,” the 32-year-old father of two said.President William Ruto, who served as the country’s deputy leader from 2013 to 2022, had vowed to slash government spending, telling Kenyans in his inauguration speech that “we are living beyond our means”.But the businessman-turned-politician, who campaigned on a platform to help the country’s poor, is planning to spend more than 1.3 billion shillings ($8.9 million) to spruce up his eight official residences.His offices at Nairobi’s State House, built a century ago, will be renovated at a cost of more than 700 million shillings. The cost of the facelift is equivalent to more than 800 houses under a tax-funded housing plan introduced by Ruto last year.More than 800 million shillings ($5.5 million) have also been earmarked for the purchase of cars for Ruto, his deputy and the prime cabinet secretary. The government has not commented publicly on the auditor general’s report and has not responded to AFP requests.- ‘Leaders do not care’ -“It appears they forgot us… as soon as they got into power,” hawker Sharon Mwaruma said. In the first six months of his presidency, Ruto — a teetotaller — spent more than 1.49 billion shillings on receptions, parties and other hospitality supplies, according to treasury records. The president’s foreign trips have also come under fire. According to The Standard newspaper, which nicknamed Ruto “the flying president”, the 57-year-old has spent one in every five days outside Kenya, visiting over 38 countries since taking office in September 2022. Ruto has defended the trips as central to his duties.”I don’t travel as a tourist. I have been going to plan the affairs of Kenya,” he told a church service in December. “I have been connecting Kenyans with employment and investment opportunities across the world.”But Kenyans are not convinced. “The leaders do not care about us. Yet we voted them to power,” chef Judith Kamau said, sitting on a broken pavementin the upmarket business district of Kilimani. – ‘Get rich quick’ -For decades, Kenyan administrations have been accused of wanton embezzlement despite repeated promises of a crackdown on graft and waste.Kenya was added last month to a “grey list” of countries subject to increased monitoring by the global anti-money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force.Critics say Ruto’s economic measures have done little to ease Kenyans’ hardships.Inflation has been running high, at 6.9 percent in January, and the International Monetary Fund has warned it would likely inch up in the first half of this year. The country is sitting on public debt of more than $70 billion — equal to over 67 percent of gross domestic product. And the shilling tanked to historic lows before gaining in recent weeks after the government raised $1.5 billion in a Eurobond buyback plan.  Purity Mwende, who is unemployed, said she had few expectations from the government.”In Kenya, politics is only a means to get rich quick,” the 26-year-old told AFP.”Only their families are benefiting.”