1,133 is not just a number

Informal settlements where Human Rights Watch conducted research on Kenya government's cash transfer program. Photo credit: HRW

Human rights defender demands action on public servants who stole funds meant for the poor

12 October 2021 - 06:10

By Janet Sankale

The Kenyan government has been asked to investigate allegations of irregularities in the implementation of its Covid-19 cash transfer programme and hold those responsible accountable.

Carine Nantulya, Africa Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), asked the government to order the departments involved in the implementation of the programme to publish all their information on the criteria for allocation and distribution of social protection funds.

She also urged the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate allegations of irregularities.

“We believe there is a need to extensively review and strengthen internal mechanisms for implementing cash transfers, including the criteria for selecting the vulnerable households and keep transparency at the heart of this approach,” Nantulya said, adding that the office of the Auditor-General should be engaged to assess the effectiveness of internal controls and overall implementation, including transparency and frequency of cash disbursement.

Kenya confirmed its first case of Covid-19 on March 13, 2020, and has since recorded more than 250,000 cases and more than 5,000 deaths. Like the rest of the world, Kenya’s economy suffered and many people lost their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the pandemic and the measures the government introduced in efforts to contain the spread of the virus. These included curfews and lockdowns.

To cushion the most vulnerable against the negative impacts of Covid-19, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced on March 25, 2020 that Sh10 billion had been set aside for a social protection fund for older people, orphans, and those with underlying health conditions. He later announced a cash transfer programme for the most vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities, pointing out that his administration was already paying out Sh250 million each week to vulnerable households.

“We have identified needy households in Nairobi that will be the inaugural recipients of the weekly Covid-19 support stipend,” the president stated.

Nantulya was speaking at the Sarova Panafric Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya, during a stakeholders’ meeting on strengthening social accountability structures in social protection programmes in Kenya’s cash transfer and credit facility for micro and small medium enterprises. The meeting was organised by Human Rights Watch and The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA).

Kenya has no social security system for those who lose their jobs and although the government stated this as one of the objectives of its Covid-19 cash transfer programme, the qualifying criteria for the beneficiaries did not include job loss.

The Human Rights Watch report, We Are All Vulnerable Here: Kenya’s Pandemic Cash Transfer Program Riddled with irregularities, released in July 2020, accused the Kenyan government of mishandling the cash transfer programme.

The 66-page report focused primarily on informal settlements in Nairobi county (Kibera, Mukuru, Korogocho, Mathare, Kangemi, Kawangware, Kariobangi, Dandora, Mugomoini, Kayole, Kayole Soweto, and Dagoretti Waithaka), one of the 21 counties where the programme was implemented.

HRW interviewed 136 people, including government employees and residents of the informal settlements. The report found that the programme lacked clear rules and basic transparency, and did not appear to recognise that everyone has a right to social security and an adequate standard of living.

Otsieno Namwaya, East Africa Director at HRW, who was the keynote speaker at the stakeholders’ meeting, stated that the social-economic effects of Covid-19 were serious, particularly in Nairobi’s informal settlements. People lost their jobs and businesses, their only source of income, and others went without food or water. Manual labourers were sent away because their employers feared getting infected.

He added that although many Kenyans looked forward to the government’s assistance, they were locked out of the enrolment process as the rules were not clear.

Those interviewed told the rights group that they did not know of the existence of the cash transfer programme. Others were turned away at their chief’s office, while others who managed to submit their names were removed from the list. Some people were lucky to be enrolled, but ultimately did not receive any cash.

The government had announced that 29,000 households in Nairobi would get Sh1,000 a week for 35 weeks. However, many households told HRW that they had only received a few instalments, sometimes after long delays. According to the rights group, instead the money went to government officials.

According to Namwaya, the government did not think through the programme before designing and implementing it.

 “There should have been a needs assessment to determine how much money the families described as vulnerable needed every week to survive through the pandemic.”

The rights group suggested Sh4,000 a week, adding that most of the people interviewed said Sh1,000 was not sustainable.

The programme was designed to target 669,000 households from April to the end of November, but government records said only 332,563 households had been reached, and not all of them received all the instalments they were entitled to.

According to HRW, although an estimated 2.4 million in Nairobi are in dire need, the government’s programme reached less than 5 per cent of them.

Namwaya said government criteria for identifying needy families were not followed and some money went to government officials who had registered private phone lines.

HRW cited the example of a 29-year-old man from Mukuru Kwa Reuben who was paid after being enrolled by a Nairobi politician. He said he had a stable job and a decent salary and was not in serious need.

Some counties had their money sent elsewhere, like in the case of Kibera in Nairobi, whose money was allocated to Kisii.

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