The revelation that the government will spend Sh23.7 billion on acquisition of weapons in the fiscal year starting July raises questions, especially when the country is going through lean economic times.
Budget estimates presented to Parliament show that military spending will rise from the current year’s Sh109 billion to Sh121 billion in the new financial year with the Kenya Defence Forces being allocated Sh23.7billion to buy hardware alone.
This amount is significant and the public expects the government to justify such an expenditure during this period when cash constraints are biting hard.
That security is important for the wellbeing of the country is not in doubt and cannot be debated. However, the Treasury must stay rational in its decision-making to avoid subjecting the taxpayer to strains of financing huge budgets when there is an opportunity to be more modest in spending tax revenue.
The planned spending for military hardware should be well detailed and full disclosures made to Parliament so that taxpayers are assured they will get value for money. Military spending has remained problematic the world over due to non-transparency in contracts and procurement deals, some of which raise questions about who actually benefits from such secrecy. This creates room for malpractices such as collusion and kick-backs between suppliers and procurement officials.
The end-game of such misconduct is usually inflated bills to cater for the greed of officials involved in questionable purchases that do not fully address the security needs of the buyer.
Kenyans can only hope that the government will appreciate their plight and remain prudent with regard to its expenditure on military equipment as well as other vote heads.
Kenya has notably been spending a lot on modernising its military, especially in the wake of the threats by terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab.
Perhaps, it is time to audit the existing stock pile of military hardware to avoid the risk of buying more than needed.
The tactics of dealing with security threats have evolved, including focusing on prevention that doesn’t always require combat. Intelligence gathering and collaboration today form the essence of security operations; Kenya ought to walk this route to counter terrorism.
Security is a priority but there is a need to be mindful of the burden taxpayers carry.