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EDITORIAL: That sinking feeling; More dead in Victoria

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By The EastAfrican
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For a fleeting few days, perhaps even weeks, the mounting body count from the MV Nyerere disaster – officially more than 200 – is likely to focus attention of the lack of maritime safety in East Africa.

Because of their carrying capacity – which means shocking numbers of dead – vessels such as MV Nyerere, which capsized off Mwanza on September 20 and the MV Bukoba, which went down with more than 800 people in May 1996, draw attention to the reality that death is routine in East Africa’s inland waters.

At one point, Lake Rescue, a volunteer group that has been trying to promote a safety culture on Lake Victoria, put the annual loss of life there in excess of 5,000.

Most of these deaths occur on small passenger and fishing vessels that barely make a headline, perhaps because they are so frequent that they are no longer seen as an abnormal event.

But death on regulated water transport such as happened in the MV Nyerere and MV Bukoba cases, reveals disturbing gaps in the region’s maritime regime.

One area of weakness is search and rescue, the other is regulation. In both events, the number of victims remained fluid to the extent that the final toll figures are mere estimates. This is because is no robust system for ensuring that operators stay faithful to the manufacturer’s recommended carrying capacity, hence the routine overloading.

The question of numbers featured prominently in this past week’s tragedy as the death toll quickly passed the vessel’s design capacity and yet there were survivors.

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Designed to carry just 430 passengers, when the counting stopped, 894 passengers died when MV Bukoba went down in 25 metres of water within sight of the shore. Yet despite remaining buoyant for more than 24 hours, all those lives were lost because there was no way to achieve a safe rescue.

Although it did not involve loss of life, the loss of MV Kabalega, a Uganda wagon ferry, after a collision with sister ship MV Kaawa in May 2005, offers insights into what ails maritime management in East Africa.

An inquiry later established that both Ugandan vessels were at the time of the incident being manned by untrained crew, lacked working communication gear and valid marine insurance.

Regional governments obviously place a higher value on money than human life. Hence while they all jealously guard their fishing zones in the lake, there is no comparable lifeguard service active in any of the three countries.

The colonial-era navigation infrastructure has long been non-functional and moving about the lake is largely a matter of trial and error.

The latest tragedy is an appropriate starting point for the search for accountability for what happens in the lake. At some point, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission said it had secured a $35.8 million grant to improve safety.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are supposed to establish a Lake Victoria Maritime Communications and Transport System that would include regional maritime rescue communication centres in Mwanza, Kisumu and Entebbe.

The centres are to be supported by 22 emergency search and rescue stations distributed around the lake, equipped with fast rescue boats and trained crews. What progress has been made towards this?

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What you need to know about the Juja by-election

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The late Juja MP Francis Waititu aka Wakapee.

The Juja parliamentary seat became vacant after MP Francis Waititu succumbed to brain cancer on February 22, 2021 at MP Shah Hospital.
Waititu was elected on a Jubilee ticket during the 2017 General Election. He garnered 66,190 votes.
According to IEBC, Juja constituency has 114,761 registered voters.
The 2017 General Election had an 80 per cent voter turn-out which saw 91,801 Kenyans casting their votes in the region.  
The by-election
On Tuesday, May 18, 2021, voters in the Juja constituency will head to the polls to elect their next member of parliament.
A total of eleven candidates will square it out in the mini poll.

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Jubilee Party By-election Juja MP Nominee Susan Njeri Waititu during certificate issuance at the Party’s Headquarters in Nairobi on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Main contenders

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1. Waititu Susan Njeri – Jubilee Party
2. Ndung’u George Koimburi – Progressive Empowerment Party (PEP)
Others:
3. Mwangi Kariuki Chege – Independent
4. Kagera Eunice Wanjiru – The New Democrats (TND)
5. Kariuki Joseph Gichui –  Independent
6. Kariuki Rashid Iregi –  Independent
7. Marungo James Kariuki – Independent
8. Mburu John Njoroge – People’s Party of Kenya (PPK)
9. Ndung’u Antony Kirori – Maendeleo Chap Chap Party (MCCP)
10. Ndung’u Kennedy Gachuma – National Liberal Party (NLP)
11. Zulu Julius Thiong’o – Independent

 

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19-year-old boy charged with defiling girl three years younger

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[Courtesy]

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A 19-year-old teenager is in trouble with authorities for allegedly defiling a 16-year-old girl.
Tyson Ongaki has been charged before a Kisumu Chief Magistrate’s court and accused of intentionally defiling the minor on various dates. The crime was allegedly committed in Bomet.
The teenager who appeared before Chief Magistrate Peter Gesora however denied the offence and has been released on a Sh100,000 bond.
The court heard that after committing the offense on diverse dates between March 26, 2021 and May 14, 2021, the teenager moved to Kisumu.
He has also been charged with committing an indecent act with a minor.
An investigating officer handling the matter told the court that the suspect was arrested in Kisumu.
The magistrate directed that the matter be heard on June 15, 2021.

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KRA must ease tax filing to boost revenues

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Nikhil Hira Independent tax consultant and Director Bowmans Coulson Harney (law firm). [Courtesy]

Anyone who has been following Kenya’s budgets over the last few years will recall headlines each year saying that the country has set its largest-ever budget. 
The upcoming 2021/22 fiscal year is no exception, with Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani announcing a budget of Sh3.6 trillion – yes, the biggest ever! A little over Sh2 trillion will come from government revenues, with approximately Sh1.8 trillion of this from tax revenues. 
The balance will be borrowed – another common feature of the last few years. 
This year’s budget comes amidst an economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the inherent assumption that the pandemic will come to an end before the start of the next financial year. 
Given surges in infections that are being seen globally, and indeed in Kenya, this assumption may well be the deal-breaker. 
The Ministry of Health has already said that Kenya may see another wave of infections in July, fuelled by the Indian variant. This could result in more lockdowns with the associated impact on the economy and indeed revenue collections. The lack of vaccines is an issue that the government must address as a matter of great urgency if the country is to get through the pandemic without further economic woes. 
While deficits in government budgets are not uncommon, Kenya seems to be annually widening the gap between expenditure and revenues. 
If one applies this model to their household budget, the upshot will almost certainly be bankruptcy. 

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What is actually required is curtailing recurring government expenditures, which is something that the government has acknowledged in the past with proposed austerity measures. 
The reality is that Kenya has not succeeded in doing this, and the pressure on revenue collection is exacerbated. 
When you add to the high level of wastage and corruption we are witnessing, the deficit will almost certainly continue to widen. 
The responsibility for tax collection and enforcement lies with the Kenya Revenue Authority better (KRA). 
There is no doubt that the authority has improved significantly in this task since it was set up in 1995. 
The taxman estimates that 4.4 million tax returns were filed by June 30 last year, up from 3.6 million in the previous year.  While this is a significant improvement, when compared to the country’s population, this number of returns seems unusually low. 
The increase in the number of tax returns, is to a large extent, due to the online reporting system, iTax, and a major push by KRA through taxpayer education.
There is no doubt that the online system has made filing tax returns significantly easier and gone are the large queues of people witnessed at Times Tower on deadline day. 
That said, there is still much to be done to make filing returns a seamless and painless exercise. 
System downtime during filing periods is something that all of us will have experienced, although, in typical Kenyan fashion, we inevitably wait until the last day to file our returns as we do with most things! 
The spreadsheet that one uses to file a return is by no means the simplest to use.  One key issue seems to be that taxpayers are not alerted to changes in the model until they try to upload a return. 
The spreadsheet does not allow one to make it more relevant to their sources of income – in essence, it is too rigid and inflexible. KRA should be able to rectify this without too much effort.
Last year was unusual in that different rates of tax were applicable in the first quarter as compared to the rest of the year.  This followed the Covid-19 relief measures that were introduced in April 2020. 
There was much debate about whether the changes were meant to apply for the whole year or whether some form of apportionment was needed. 
In the end, the decision was made for apportionment. One can argue about what the correct treatment should be, but the issue was how long it took for the decision to be made and, indeed, to amend the iTax system. 
The age-old notion has always been that the more complex and difficult it is to file a tax return, the more likely it will be that taxpayers simply won’t file their returns. While the issue with the system has been resolved, there is an inherent administrative issue here that must be addressed. 
KRA has to be significantly more proactive in dealing with changes in rates and law to ensure the least inconvenience to taxpayers. 
The writer, Nikhil Hira, is the Director of Bowmans Kenya.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Bowmans Kenya  

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