Kenyan author demands forensic audits of country’s debts, speaks out about country’s odious debts

Probe International
Probe International
January 6, 2010

Kenyan taxpayers should not have to repay the odious debts incurred by post-independence governments that borrowed money in their name but used the funds to terrorize citizens or were involved with corruption-tainted deals such as Anglo Leasing, writes prominent author Okiya Omtatah Okoiti in a recent op-ed. Using limited funds collected through taxation to repay odious debts incurred by the colonial, Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki administrations, he writes, must come to an end.

His remarks come as lawmakers debate the creation of a new constitution that will expressly detail proposed limits to government borrowing and require that all future public debts be approved by Parliament, and ultimately by taxpayers. That is a refreshing improvement, says, Omtatah, but it doesn’t go far enough. Because the current constitution has allowed successive governments to borrow secretively and liberally, there has been little benefit to the people—but lots for the power-brokers or the regimes-of-the-day—from the “astronomically high public debts, which gobble up an average of 25 per cent of the national budget to service annually.”

“Over the decades, runaway public debt has impoverished our country,” he writes. “The high cost of servicing it has taken scarce money away from development projects and vital services such as our struggling healthcare and education sectors.”

Ultimately, he says, the odious debts incurred by past regimes—which some estimates put at more than 60 percent of the country’s total debt burden—has led to the “current instability associated with primitive competition for scarce resources.” According to Omtatah, those debts were not used for the benefit of the people through infrastructure projects and other social initiatives.

“The new order must free us from repaying odious debts” he writes. The new constitution must ensure that none of the “regime debts of old find their way into the new order.”

In an elegantly just solution, Omtatah argues not for blanket forgiveness, but rather that the public debt register that stands at more than one trillion shillings “be published and forensically audited as part of the transition mechanism to the democratic dispensation.” The people of Kenya, says Omtatah, should “only pay back what was legitimately borrowed to benefit them.”

Further Reading:

Partially odious debts? A framework for an optimal liability regime

REVIEW: Partially odious debts? A framework for an optimal liability regime

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