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85,000 Kenyans ask the government to refuse paying debts

Written by Arthur Okwemba
Debt cancellation campaigners are today going to hand over 85,000 post-cards signed by Kenyans calling on the government to refuse to pay or acknowledge debts owed to developed countries. 

The massive campaign, which has been going for one year now, want the government to refuse paying the debts because a huge percent of them did not benefit Kenyans. 

Kenyan National Human Rights Commission chairperson, Maina Kiai, will accept the post-cards in his capacity as a government officer, in a handing over ceremony to be held at the Uhuru Park’s Freedom corner. 

Although the Minister, who is understood to have agreed last year to accept the cards on behalf of the government,  has declined to do, according to debt campaigners. 

Attempts to get a response from his Personal Assistant were fruitless as he was said to be in long meeting with the minister. 

It is not clear why the minister, who has offered support to the campaigners, declined. Sources in the ministry say they think the framing of the questions on the post card did not please the minister. 

One of the questions asks Kenyan to indicate if their government has served them well. 

Kiai is therefore expected to pick up the issue of post-cards with the Minister of Finance and the Speaker of the National Assembly. 

The handing over will be done by the Catholic Economic Justice (CEJ) Network, an inter-religious debt cancellation campaigners. 

“The debt problem is a human rights issue, and that is why Kiai has been called to accept the post-cards,” said one of the campaigners. 

Petitioning the Speaker of the National Assembly over the post-cards is to start a process of convincing parliament to set-up a debt monitoring committee that will regularly report to the public its findings on debt commitments and utilization. 

Launched in 2006 under the slogan “Debt is Slavery! Debt is Poverty! Refusing to pay is Justice!”, the post-cards are a petition to the developed countries to cancel what is called illegitimate debts and to press the Kenyan government to refuse to pay such debts. 

Illegitimate debts are loans taken by countries but did not benefit the public. Instead, they ended up lining pockets of individuals. 

Or the money was used by the government to finance repressive activities targeting its own citizens. Such money is now being demanded form governments practicing popular democracy. 

By November last year, the country had a debt totaling to Sh 806 billion – Sh 425 billions is external debt and Sh 381 billion is domestic debt. A significant fraction of this money is suspected to be illegitimate debt. 

Some debt cancellation campaigners have in the past put the figure at 80 percent of the total debts. 

In the Financial year 2005/2006, the government put aside Sh 122 billion as budgetary allocation to service the debt; amount higher than what was allocated to education (Sh 96 billion) or health (Sh 30 billion). 

In 2005, Kenya was not one of the beneficiaries when the Group of 8 rich countries, World Bank and International Monetary Fund announced countries to benefit from a debt cancellation package. 

The decision to leave Kenya out catalyzed the debt campaigners to start campaigns to ensure this happens. 

Since March last year, the CEJ together with SUPKEM, Anglican Church, Hindu Council of Kenya, and the Kenya Debt Relief Network have been going around the country informing Kenyans about the impact of the debt burden on social, educational, health, and economic terms. 

The campaigners want five key things to be done to ensure Kenya’s past and present loans from donors or taxes are accounted for. 

Opening the Public Debt Register for scrutiny and publishing its contents; and ensuring those who siphoned public are made to return them, apologize to the public and then punished for their ills, are some of things the campaigners want done. 

Others are: reducing the domestic debt stock; providing annual comprehensive financial report of public income and expenditure; and creating monitoring mechanisms that ensure future loans are approved by Kenyan people and then used transparently. 

Opening up of the Debt Register is to help in the identification of illegitimate debts and people responsible as evidence to the donors why certain debts given to the past and current regimes have to be cancelled. 

While the pressure is being applied to the lender and the receiver of the money, developed countries are still adamant to cancel the debts. 

The challenge being both parties to the loan agreement have to agree that the money was put to the wrong use. This is the most difficult part. Only Norway has so far cancelled debt of five countries after accepting that its funds to these countries did not benefit their publics. 

The debt cancellation campaigners are now asking these unwilling western governments to consider converting their debts into servicing development programmes in Kenya. 

Under this arrangement, an agreement is reached where instead of Kenya paying the money to the owed country; it is ploughed into development programmes. 

A committee made of representatives from the two governments in question decides on what are the priority projects to invest the money in. 

One such agreement exists between the Kenyan and Italian governments, with the latter agreeing to convert the debt into financing development programmes within the country. 

Under this arrangement, the money the government is supposed to pay Italy as debt repayment is channeled to a Fund. 

A committee compromising individuals from the two governments decide programmes the money should be channeled to. Some of this money has been earmarked for slum upgrading. 

The only problem, debt campaigners say, the public is not aware of this arrangement and how they can benefit from it. 

Even as they agree to some of these arrangements, donors are receiving the flak for not monitoring how their funds are being used and instead continuing to oil the wheels of corruption. 

When they took their campaign to the recent World Social Forum they called on donors to change from business as usual when dealing with governments in the south.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been asked to set up a commission with mandate to find out how its funds have been utilized.








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