Leonard Khafafa, public policy analyst. [Standard]

A defining feature of the Jubilee administration is the diversionary gambit from pressing problems of the day. The stoning of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s helicopter was a reprehensible act and, no doubt, must be condemned by all right-thinking Kenyans. But did it warrant alarmist statements that presage threats to national security? Is the current fuel shortage not an existential crisis that deserves more than scant attention from national leaders?

Petroleum products are, literally and figuratively, the fuel that drives the nation. Every facet of Kenyan life is inextricably tied to the availability of affordable fuel. Any changes in pump prices are reflected immediately in the cost of all goods and services.

For the first time in living memory, Kenyans are now queuing for hours on end at filling stations, hoping to fuel their cars. Many dealers are already stocked out and there is no telling when adequate supplies will resume.

Which is a worrisome trend when one considers that in Africa, fuel shortages are harbingers of the inexorable collapse of economies. Zimbabwe, formerly referred to as Africa’s breadbasket, had queues at the pump, not unlike what is being witnessed in Kenya today. One hopes that this is not a trajectory that the country will soon follow.

It is instructive that the biting fuel shortage has been caused by the government’s delay in releasing subsidy cash owed to oil companies. Petroleum Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau says subsidy arrears amounting to Sh13 billion will be paid this week to end the crisis. While it is reassuring to the public, it raises some questions.

Why was the subsidy withheld in the first place? Auditor General Nancy Gathungu has previously questioned Treasury’s diversion of the subsidy to other State agencies. In a report early in the year, she says, “no documents were tabled to the Auditor General to show how the funds were used by the agencies and a private company.” Who authorised this diversion amounting to Sh2.074 billion?

Illegal diversion of subsidy

The Petroleum Development Fund Act of 1991 set up a subsidy to be used only when fuel prices rocket so as to protect consumers and for infrastructure upgrades in the petroleum sector. Diversion to other activities is therefore an illegality that invites sanction, more so, when it is a threat that affects the well-being of the nation.

The Petroleum PS’s attempts to blame motorists for panic buying that has caused a run on fuel comes across as specious in light of these revelations of breaches of the law. Neither can the shortage be blamed on the war in Ukraine, which has curtailed fuel supplies to many parts of the world.

In fact, the Auditor General’s report that predates the war lays it bare when it says of the diverted funds, “In the circumstances, the propriety and validity of transfers to other government entities of Sh2,074,000,000 and Sh35,000,000 to a private entity for the year ended June 2021 could not be confirmed and management was in breach of the law.”

True leadership takes responsibility. One would expect that for actions pointing to malfeasance at high levels of government, heads would roll or at least, resignations of those who have dropped the ball. But for an administration that has shown precious little business suss over the years, the best that can be hoped for is for the government to weather this crisis and hold fort until the next administration takes over.

A word of advice for leaders taking over the helm of the country in August this year; know that you are in an unprecedented economic crisis. You will be taking over a country that is mired in debt and grand corruption. You will need the goodwill of all Kenyans so that the hard decisions made to resuscitate the economy are appreciated as being for public good.

And you will need to be real! Pie-in-the-sky promises like Sh6,000 dole for the unemployed and mama mboga governments will not make the cut!

The writer is a public policy analyst.