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Clerics criticise State over rising debt

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By PATRICK LANG’AT
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Religious leaders and a section of civil society on Thursday rebuked the government over the mounting debt and the mismanagement of the economy and demanded the shelving of big infrastructure projects.

Eight years after a new constitution, the clerics returned to Ufungamano House pushing for an office of executive prime minister and reduction of the number of MPs.

With the country already saddled with a debt of Sh5 trillion, and as the borrowing appetite continues, the religious leaders now want the government to suspend the construction of the Mombasa-Nairobi express highway, to be funded with loans from the US, and the second phase of the Standard Gauge Railway, which is to be built with Chinese debt.

“We are very concerned that our borrowing has hit the roof, and we are not totally convinced that what we borrowed has gone to development, because of endemic corruption.

“So today we ask: Do we have a limitless capacity of carrying debt? Or should we as a nation cut according to our cloth?” Canon Peter Karanja of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) asked.

Speaking under the Dialogue Reference Group, the leaders said the proposed 466-kilometre, six-lane Mombasa-Nairobi expressway expected to cost Sh450 billion, and the Sh380 billion extension of the SGR from Naivasha to Malaba will sink Kenya further in debt at a time, they said, the country could no longer take more.

The three-day national dialogue conference was chaired by Archbishop Martin Kivuva of the Catholic Diocese of Mombasa — and echoes similar initiatives in the 1990s when the religious groups helped reshape the current Constitution.

Statistics from Treasury show that Kenya’s outstanding foreign debt stood at Sh2.563 trillion as at the end of February, with domestic debt standing at Sh2.448 trillion as at May this year, a total of Sh5.011 trillion.

The proposed building of the expressway has become a diplomatic issue with the US hoping to lend the money for the project as part of a turf war with China. During the recent visit by President Kenyatta to the White House, he promised to have the matter concluded soon.

But the religious leaders say the expressway was not a priority since Mombasa and Nairobi are linked by the multibillion SGR.

They said the government should instead focus more on increasing the use of the railway line “to make it worth the colossal investment made to build it”.

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Last weekend, Deputy President William Ruto dismissed critics and said that the country’s debts are still within manageable levels — dashing hopes of critics who would like the country to stop the incessant borrowing.

“The country is broke and cannot even feed its own people,” the religious and civil society leaders claimed yesterday while asking the government to suspend the Naivasha-Malaba extension of the SGR.

Pundits, worldwide, have criticised China for using debt to increase its footprint in emerging economies in what has been christened as “debt-trap diplomacy” or “debt colonialism”.

“Kenya must avoid recolonisation through debt as has been witnessed in other countries,” the Kenyan leaders warned.

With some of the projects already riddled with corruption, the group also called for an independent audit of the national debts to establish who is owed, how much is owed, the terms of the debts, purposes for which the money was borrowed, and if the debts were invested for the purposes they were intended.

“If Parliament does not commence this process within six months or if it is not undertaken fully and satisfactorily, the Dialogue Reference Group will set up a people’s national debt audit task force to undertake the assignment,” they said in a joint statement.

The group also called for a stop of the levy on petroleum products, saying the focus should be on reduction of wastage, and the wage bill, rather than taxation.

As another cost-cutting measure, the group also proposed that all public officers and state officials should only receive health services from public health facilities.

In addition to NCCK, groups represented in the forum included the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, the Hindu Council of Kenya, and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, among others.

“The National Assembly must forthwith use its powers to ensure that Treasury prepares a balanced budget based on our national income to stop the trend of borrowing to cover deficits,” the group said.

In what appears to be a move towards Constitutional amendment, the group has proposed the reduction of constituencies from the current 290 to 150, resulting in the creation of a 209-member National Assembly, down from 347, with 47 woman representatives, and 12 nominated.

It was at Ufungamano House that religious leaders and civil society helped push for the new Constitution.

But while they want the number of MPs reduced, the leaders want the creation of the position of an executive prime minister and two deputies, as well as the creation of the office of the leader of opposition in the National Assembly and the Senate to be taken by the runners-up in the presidential election, and their running mate, respectively.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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