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Letters

Information disclosure vital in Covid-19 fight

A nurse prepares an isolation room in Kisumu
A nurse prepares an isolation room in Kisumu. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges worldwide. Indeed, the disease is presently one of the main threats to human existence and nationhood.

In Kenya, like many countries in the world, the confirmation of Covid-19 cases was greeted with a lot of apprehension and swift action.

One of the measures introduced by the government was to establish an emergency fund – the Covid-19 Emergency Fund – to mobilise resources for the management of the pandemic in the country.

According to the Public Finance Management (Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund) Regulations of 2020, the Fund will be used in the acquisition of essential supplies for public hospitals and other related institutions, health professionals and frontline workers, fund programmes and initiatives towards cushioning and provision of emergency relief to the most vulnerable, older and poor persons in urban informal settlements.

In addition, the Fund seeks to support and stimulate micro, small and medium enterprises rendered vulnerable by the pandemic, and fund the restoration of the facilities being used for compulsory quarantine for safe use by the hosting institutions.

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In his address to the nation earlier last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that the Fund had so far raised Sh1 billion, which would assist the government in cushioning Kenyans against the impacts of the pandemic. While saying that the money had been donated by the well-wishers and corporate firms,

He did not give other details about the Fund. However, in the same week, an assessment by Transparency International (Kenya), in its ‘Action for Transparency Project’ aid tracker estimated that Sh64.7 billion had allegedly been received in donations.

Whereas the figures have not been confirmed, it is evident that the failure by the Government to adequately disclose information on the Fund has led to a lot of speculation in the country.

In fact, there is scepticism on whether the Fund will be utilised transparently and for the intended purposes.

The sceptics cannot be blamed wholesomely; our history is replete with many instances of misuse of funds intended for noble causes.

Our proclivity for theft of public resources over the years has been legendary and unparalleled. Indeed, it was just last week that there were reports in a section of the media of theft of food and other relief items by some public officers. It seems that the government just seeks to have donations without correspondingly disclosing information on the Fund to the public.

While it is not in doubt that we are in an extra-ordinary period, there is nothing that warrants non-disclosure of information regarding the government’s actions regarding the containment of the pandemic.

This is the Constitution’s promise under Article 35 as read together with the Access to Information Act. As a matter of fact, access to information is one of the most important tools that the government needs to manage the pandemic.

In my view, access to information on the pandemic is the least action that is expected to take in order to ensure ownership and support of its programmes by the public.

Otherwise, if the present opaqueness continues, scepticism and rumours by the public will abound, and the measures taken by the Government may not achieve the intended objectives.

Moreover, it may give rise to scandals due to lack of transparency and accountability in the management of the Fund.

It is, therefore, important for the Fund Board to come up with strategies of proactively disclosing information to the public on the sources of funds they have raise, the expenditure and how they intend to spend such monies.

Further, the board should explore ways of ensuring meaningful participation of the public in decision-making processes in order to ensure accountability and public goodwill.

Edward Cedric Opany

Development Communication Specialist

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