I believe you are having a fantastic week and that you are keeping well, amidst #COVID-19. We must remain positive, this too shall come to pass. Last week, I promised that I will be here to revisit a conversation based on a TV interview I watched two weeks ago. I first wrote this as a letter to the editor and sent it to one of the local dailies in Kenya. It got published. Unfortunately, I too, couldn’t recognise it. Something terribly must have happened courtesy of the small disclaimer- The editor reserves that the right to edit all material for length, gramma etc. Below is the full article….
The late Gordon B. Hinckley, an American religious leader once said, “In matters of honesty, there are no shortcuts; no little white lies, no big black lies, only the simple, honest truths spoken in candour, hence being true is different from being honest.”
Two weeks ago, I saw a poster make rounds on social media about a recent television interview featuring the United Kingdom’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Jane Marriot and her American counterpart, Ambassador Kyle McCarter. The two presented “a diplomatic perspective” on the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), challenges and progress. There were reasons as to why I should pay attention to them. One, these two are diplomats that I hold in high esteem, and the mere fact that they are serving their tour of duty in my country, I was curious to hear what they had to say about their experience being in Kenya compared to the pandemic response back in their home countries.
Two, I am currently a student at Cardiff University in the UK, finalising my dissertation, focusing on government communication in relation to the response and management of COVID-19. I have drawn my literature review from three case studies, the UK, the United States and New Zealand. This means I have spent a remarkable amount of time, reading and researching from these three countries on the subject of COVID-19. The UK and the US have had a fair share of their good deeds and grave mishaps in handling the pandemic.
Let me spotlight a few. There is the case of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, subverting the usual presidential communications process via press officers, ignoring journalists during pressers, tweeting away whatever seems to come into his mind including insults, public mis/disinformation and labelling anything that displeases him as fake news. At a time when utterances of our leaders are crucial to the fight against the pandemic, I can’t imagine something similar in Kenya or any other part of the world…or, can you? I watch him with utter shock and wonder how blurred the lines have become between the expression of personal opinion and leadership at a time of so much uncertainty. With the pandemic having ravaged the United States in such high magnitude, that impacts millions of people, I somehow, expected that the US Ambassador would talk about some of these experiences in his own country compared to how Kenya was faring. Especially looking at some of the decisions the US made initially including reluctance to take decisive actions to stem the spread of the virus that crippled its health care system. How on earth did it take the wealthiest nation on earth so long to deliver COVID-19 tests, and how could it allow its health system to be overwhelmed?
My musings led me to reflect on views by Donna Ladkin, an Organisational Learning and Leadership Senior Lecturer at Cranfield School of Management in the UK, who urges that we should focus on systemic structures and weaknesses affecting management of a crisis rather than romanticise the leaders at the helm during this period.
In light of these observations, rather than continuing to feed our romance with leaders, leadership scholars encourage us to expand our inquiries to interrogate the structural and societal forces which contribute to a situation’s outcomes and, also pay more considerable attention to the irrational, primal dimensions at play in the relationship between leaders and those that they lead. Well, McCarter offered no comparative analysis of any kind. All I heard was how badly my country has fared in the management of COVID-19 virus, even though I believe it has fared way better than the US on its approach and actions. He did mention the funding the US is providing to partially deal with the pandemic and spoke about “thievery of the resources”, but he forgot to give any details of his specific concerns. I imagine, only activists can get away with providing wonderful soundbites without care as to whether they are fiction or fact. Diplomats are expected to table facts if they relate to their host government.
Whereas the television interview pointed to one case of questionable procurement, a little more comparative research might have forced the UK High Commissioner to perhaps reflect on how the UK is dealing with its own allegations of poorly managed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) procurement.
The cases in the UK are many. They are being discussed all over, be it on the social media platforms or the mainstream media. The Good Law Project (GLP) in the UK (not-for-profit membership organisation, that uses the law to protect the interests of the public) has published a list of “PPE Fiasco” asking why the Government awarded PPE contracts worth millions of pounds to a pest control company, a confectionery wholesaler and an opaque fund. The GLP is taking legal action to get answers.
“On 27 March Government opened its portal inviting tenders for PPE on the gov.uk website and received 24,000 offers from 16,000 suppliers. It has spent – and this is the Treasury’s figure – a staggering £15 billion. And, surprisingly, three of the biggest beneficiaries were companies specialising in pest control, a confectionery wholesaler and an opaque private fund owned through a tax haven, reads an extract on the GPL website.
Three companies are currently under judicial review with respect to the above claims. They include Pestfix that received £108 million from a government tender for PPE that never appeared, Clandeboye Agencies Ltd, a confectionery wholesaler, in Co Antrim that received £14.2 million and a subsequent £93.2 million of public money for PPE than never appeared and fund manager Ayanda Capital, registered in Mauritius, a tax haven, that was given £252 million of public funds to supply PPE that never materialised.
As if this isn’t enough, there are more alleged cases of unsupplied garments and biological chemical protection to the National Health Service (NHS). £25 million is claimed to have been given to Luxe Lifestyle Ltd, yet, according to Companies House, a UK based registrar that hosts details of all companies transacting business in the UK, the business was incorporated by fashion designer Karen Brost in November 2018. In an interesting turn of events, the company appears to have no employees, no assets and no accounts filed. Well, these are only a few of the many scandals surrounding the management of COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. It would have been interesting to hear how Ambassador Marriot would have addressed these serious issues around governance in the PPE process in the UK, or indeed how Dominic Cummings, Chief adviser to the Prime Minister was publicly flouting advise and guidelines put in place to combat COVID-19.
The list goes on.
However, listening to Ambassador Marriot claim that UK companies were suffering at the tender box because they couldn’t give bribes – without a shred of evidence – I wondered really, why was there no mention of these flawed tendering processes that have come under heavy scrutiny in the UK.
The television interview was an important departure for globalised learning to a challenge facing the entire world indiscriminately. And as the pandemic unfolds, there are many lessons to learn. Indeed, Kenyans might have appreciated to hear and perhaps learn how the US and UK are dealing with similar challenges in managing a crisis including corruption related to the procurement of PPE and other medical supplies that has crippled efforts of their governments to deal with the pandemic effectively. Of course, we in Kenya must work hard to eliminate slippage of public funds and EACC, DCI and DPP must continue their assault on graft with high octane. After drawing the proverbial blood from Grace Wakhungu and John Waluke, are they on the scent?
All these claims deny or strip us all of our human rights and dignity. And with regard to PPE, where the lives of innocent individuals are concerned, there can be no mercy.
#IAmChevening and this too is #MyCheveningJourney
See you again, next week Inshalla!Follow me on Social Media