The world over, one of the areas prone to dodgy dealings is banknote printing contracts. Large banknote printing contracts are always dogged by allegations of corruption.
It does not therefore surprise that our own banknote printing contracts tend to be bogged by controversy.
Despite the fact that the Constitution explicitly states that we should not have portraits of individuals on our banknotes, the transition to new generation notes that do not have such portraits has been slow and tortuous.
As it has now turned out, civil society activist Okiya Omtata has sent notice that he intends to sue the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) if it does not withdraw all currency with portraits of individuals from circulation.
Why has the Central Bank of Kenya been dragging its feet? Is it just a matter of bureaucratic lethargy?
The last time I tried to dig, I gathered that a disagreement had emerged over who, apart from CBK Patrick Njoroge, should sign the new banknotes.
The argument is that after the office of the permanent secretary to the Treasury died, the responsibility of signing banknote contracts had shifted to the Treasury secretary.
In the previous constitutional order, under the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury Act, the holder of the office was not only the chief executive of the Treasury but more or less operated as a first among equals among other permanent secretaries, issuing budget guidelines and ceilings for their ministries.
Mundane as the controversy sounds, it has engaged top government offices, including the office of the Attorney- General, in endless exchanges of correspondence.
Yet the fact of the matter is that the constitutional deadline for rolling out new currency with portraits of individuals was August 27, 2015.
And, the Constitution is explicit in Article 231 (4) where it states: ‘‘Notes and Coins issued by the Central Bank of Kenya may bear images that depict or symbolise an aspect of Kenya, but shall not bear the portrait of any individual’’.
If Mr Omtata takes the matter to court as he has threatened, the CBK may find itself in a very uncomfortable situation.
Methinks that what we are witnessing are games deployed as part complex politics to pave the way for single-sourced contracts to the incumbent currency printer.
It has been one excuse after another since 2007 when Kenya - for the first time in the country’s history - successfully procured an international tender that registered cheaper notes with superior designs.
That competitively procured contract did not see the light of the day. In the following years, all that happened were negotiations for the joint venture with De La Rue even as the incumbent printer continued to enjoy single-sourced contracts.
We have not procured banknotes through an open international competitive tender since the CBK was established in 1966.
In 2003, shortly after taking power, the administration of President Mwai Kibaki cancelled such a contract with De La Rue International, citing irregularities in the manner it had been awarded by former president Daniel arap Moi’s administration.
For the first time in the country’s history, the Kibaki administration floated an international tender for banknotes. Prices of banknotes dropped by nearly 50 per cent below what we had been paying during the regime of single-sourced contracts of the Moi years.
But as it turned out, that competitive contract did not see the light of day. Instead, the government decided to negotiate the joint venture deal with De La Rue.
Just as the negotiations were about to be concluded, the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee initiated investigations into the deal. The Public Investments Committee also waded in. The negotiations with De La Rue were not concluded.
But even after the negotiations for the government to purchase 40 per cent were concluded last year, the government continues to drag its feet on procuring banknotes designed without portraits of individuals.
The CBK should float an international tender for new generation banknotes immediately.