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Measures will help all cope with Covid-19

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EDITORIAL

By EDITORIAL
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The country has entered a difficult moment in the war against coronavirus.

Consequently, drastic actions have to be taken. Starting Friday, there will be no night movements as a 7pm-5am curfew will be imposed, severely constricting activities such as business, work and social interactions.

Except for essential services like medical, national security, broadcasting and information, all others will be cancelled during the curfew hours.

This is the severest step taken so far as the number of Covid-19 infections hit 28, largely due to reckless and careless behaviour of citizens, as witnessed recently when health protocols were violated with abandon.

Public gatherings, among them burials, weddings, worship and open-air markets, as well as non-essential travel, have continued.

In the transport sector, social distance regulations have been flouted without a care.

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In articulating the new measures, President Uhuru Kenyatta belaboured the fact that the greatest threat is ourselves — our inability, or refusal, to follow guidelines.

Notwithstanding the curfew, unless there is change in behaviour, the threat will persist.

The dusk-to-dawn curfew instead of a lockdown, as has been imposed in several countries, including South Africa, will allow room for businesses and public engagement.

We all must respect and appreciate that window and act judiciously.

Significantly, the government announced a stimulus package to stabilise the economy and insulate it against the ravages of Covid-19.

President Kenyatta announced an 80 per cent pay cut for himself and his deputy William Ruto, 30 per cent for Cabinet secretaries and 20 per cent for principal secretaries.

Concomitantly, several tax reliefs have been proclaimed vide a 100 per cent waiver for low-income earners with a gross salary of Sh24,000 and below.

High-income earners got a five per cent relief. Value Added Tax goes down from 16 per cent to 14 per cent from April 1 and corporation tax from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.

The salary cuts for top government officials will release additional cash to the National Treasury to boost its reserve to deal with the pestilence, while tax breaks will put more cash in the pockets of employees and cushion businesses from the devastation resulting from economic slowdown.

These are timely measures, which the business community, faced with drastically falling revenues and prospects for mass layoffs, had been asking for.

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They add to the lowering by the Central Bank of Kenya of the threshold of cash that commercial banks should maintain by one percentage point, from 5.25 per cent to 4.25 per cent, which in practical terms releases Sh35 billion into the economy.

That gives banks flexibility on cash reserves, allowing them liberty to use the deposits more robustly.

In effect, they now have more money to lend, hence increasing the amount of cash for businesses.

Similarly, the Central Bank Rate (CBR) has been reduced by one percentage point, from 8.25 per cent to 7.25 per cent, which will reduce the cost of borrowing.

Businesses thrive in commercial borrowing and this works well when the interest rates are manageable. Commercial banks should reduce interest rates on lending.

Two things are crucial. First is adherence and second is prudence. Oftentimes, commercial banks circumvent such declarations by introducing several invisible charges that wipe out the intended gains.

Contrariwise, some borrowers mismanage bank loans and fail to make repayments, hence attract punitive actions.

As we have argued before, the novel coronavirus contagion is first a health challenge and second an economic and social threat.

International Monetary Fund chief executive Kristalina Georgieva captured the reality in a statement this week when she proclaimed that the impact of Covid-19 will be worse than the great global recession of 2007-9 that resulted from the vulnerabilities of the financial systems, including the US housing bubble.

The global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell to the negative.

In Kenya, new projections show that the economy will grow by 3.4 per cent, nearly half of what was reported last year.

But it could be worse, considering that agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, has been ravaged by locust, and matters are further complicated by unpredictable weather.

But at the core of all this is citizens’ responsibility to stop infections by following health regulations.

China’s Wuhan city, which was the epicentre of the epidemic, has turned the corner through implementation of tough measures.

Kenya has no option. Utmost sacrifice is paramount.

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Lockdown unwise now, but if people start dying like flies…

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MAGESHA NGWIRI

By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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We are in the midst of a plague of biblical proportions, and the government is hardly in a position to mitigate most of its ill effects.

To make matters worse, we as individuals are cooperating more with the virus than with official advisories on this matter.

While it is true that coronavirus deaths are rare in Kenya at the moment, it is also true that the rate of infection is growing exponentially.

We can only hope that the floodgates will not open, sweeping us all into unprecedented misery.

The government must have by now learnt a few useful lessons on how to protect its people from those countries that have gone to hell and are on their way back to the living.

China easily comes to mind. The virus, which is said to have originated there, ravaged the city of Wuhan before the authorities locked it down.

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Today, although China is not free from the coronavirus, the pandemic is in retreat. The Chinese could tell us how they went about it.

The example that we cannot dare follow is Italy, the country that currently has the highest number of deaths.

When the history of the Covid-19 pandemic is written, this country will feature prominently, first because its government failed to protect its ageing population, and then because it dilly-dallied, leading to 7,000 deaths since mid-February.

Right now, Italy is in complete shutdown, quarantining 60 million people, but the infection rates have not subsided and many more could die before the virus is contained.

However, even this drastic move pales in comparison with what has just happened in India – all of its 1.3 billion souls have been put under quarantine.

In ordinary circumstances this would sound like an overreaction, because after all, only 10 deaths have been reported out of 519 confirmed cases, but these are not ordinary times.

This lockdown means confining people at home, closing down “all shops, commercial establishments, factories, workshops, offices, markets, and places of worship”, and stalling public transport.

From all this, one could conclude that Kenya, which has reported 31 infections so far, need not enforce such strict orders, but the fact that for too long the country kept its ports of entry open until two weeks after the first case was identified, may mean that the worst is still ahead.

It is true that the raft of coercive measures already announced – closure of places of worship, bars and entertainment joints, and a ban on congregating in public – may work, but only if wilful ignorance and irresponsibility are curbed.

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For example, it is disheartening to learn that although the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) was among the first to ban church worship, some pastors are advising their parishioners to hold Sunday services in private homes.

What these pastors don’t seem to realise is that the virus does not lurk in church buildings; it is spread by people through close association even when the symptoms are not obvious, hence the sensible orders not to congregate anywhere.

Indeed, a spike in the infection rate may be inevitable and the government forced to impose even more draconian measures, a complete lockdown being the most extreme.

Right now, there is a robust debate between proponents of a countrywide lockdown who contend that it is the only way to halt the grim toll of infections, and the realists who consider any move to lock people inside their compounds to be naïve and counterproductive.

What will happen, they ask, to the millions of people who live in shanties and low-rent estates?

Will the government provide them with food and water for the duration of the lockdown?

And since most depend on daily wages to fend for their families, should they expect the government to provide these things?

The answer is no; it does not have the capacity to cushion the effects of a lockdown on already desperate denizens, neither can it watch helplessly as the pandemic decimates the population.

Even those critics whose knee-jerk reaction is to oppose everything the government tries to do offer no solution to this conundrum; should it close its eyes and let the pathogen run its course killing thousands, or risk insurrection from people who believe it is better to die on the streets than cooped up in a hovel watching their children starve.

Unlike those social media pundits who know everything, I don’t pretend to have an answer to this vexing problem.

All that can be said is that if people follow the advisories from the government – to stay home as much as possible, keep a healthy distance from acquaintances, wash hands frequently and avoid crowds – perhaps the Grim Reaper will be discouraged.

Right now, the country cannot afford a lockdown on the Indian scale, but if Kenyans start dying like flies, it would be highly welcome regardless of the repercussions.

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Police should enforce curfew with restraint

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EDITORIAL

By EDITORIAL
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The curfew announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta this week took effect last night as the government intensified efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Unlike other countries that declared a complete lockdown, stopping every public activity and forcing everyone to stay indoors, Kenya opted for a dusk-to-dawn restriction, allowing citizens to go about their business during the day.

Informing this is the understanding that our economy is largely driven by the informal sector, supporting more than 80 per cent of the population, for whom daily work is non-negotiable because that is their only source of upkeep.

For that population, failing to go to work even for a single day means their families going without a meal and rendered unable to meet all other socio-economic obligations.

A complete lockdown would have grave consequences on the economy: production would grind to a halt and that would affect the entire business chain, including sourcing of raw materials and securing markets for them.

A curfew, therefore, is a compromise to enable the economy to run while creating restrictions to limit infections.

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In this context, it is hoped that the curfew will cause people to stay indoors and avoid irresponsible activities that would expose them to arrest by the police.

Reckless behaviour that may trigger further and harsher actions has to be avoided.

Simply, citizens have to obey the law and implement the protocols spelt out by the Ministry of Health. With the number of infected standing at 31, all efforts must be channelled towards controlling the spread.

Indeed, the police and other agencies have been roped into this fight, yet, ideally, they are better off dealing with other critical security matters.

Even so, the government has to handle the situation with restraint. It should provide clear guidelines about the curfew, explaining the protocols involved.

For instance, the curfew does not translate into abrogation of individual rights. Whatever the authorities do must be within the law.

On Friday, Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai highlighted what would be done to those violating the directives.

However, he did not provide details, for example, on how the police will handle the arrests.

Where will they take those arrested, given the government is seeking to decongest police cells and prisons to curb the spread of the virus?

How and where will the cases be handled without compromising public health? What are the safety precautions in the custodies?

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There are legitimate fears that, given the characteristic behaviour of the police officers, chances are that some will resort to extortion to cash in on the situation to make money from hapless citizens.

Public assurance is pertinent in this regard. Systems ought to be put in place to eliminate corrupt practices in the entire process.

Thus far, the public has not been sufficiently apprised of what is expected of them or better, their rights and entitlements.

Police will certainly do random checks and arrest those found to be violating the curfew directive.

But unless professionally executed, that is bound to be counter-intuitive and cause bad blood between the public and the police.

Put simply, the police should publish the dos and don’ts to make it easier for everyone to understand and do the correct thing.

Public education is paramount and, in particular, the police service requires new orientation to enable them deal fairly, humanly but firmly with the citizens.

It is noted that although the government has provided a list of the essential services to be exempted during the curfew, there is no clarity of how they will be identified.

This is the first time in nearly 40 years that the country is going through this painful experience and a majority of the population is strange to it.

The last time the country had a curfew was in 1982, following the failed political coup by a section of the military.

Contexts are different and so are the objectives. To date, the country is grappling with a killer medical crisis that requires minimal social contact and which goal is best achieved through limiting movements.

Getting the public to understand that objective is vital. The country is not at war but is dealing with an unprecedented medical challenge that requires totally new thinking.

All said, the public is apprehensive about the way the curfew will be implemented and how their life will change, and they need assurance that everything will be done within the law.

Covid-19 has occasioned unprecedented pain and disruptions in our midst; the way it is handled will determine how far we go in eliminating it and emerging a stronger, vibrant nation.

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What does it mean to prove a rule?

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PHILIP OCHIENG

By PHILIP OCHIENG
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I recently wrote that Martha Karua’s contribution to a parliamentary debate was “exceptionally inspiring”.

That means that it stood above all others. In common parlance, it was “the exception that proved the rule”. But isn’t it a curious statement?

The instances of a rule are what might “prove” the rule. However, even here, the idea of “proving” a rule is hardly logical.

For what on earth does it mean to “prove a rule”? Most English users – even in England – assume that the verb “to prove” in this idiom means to impose an affirmation.

But, even if it did, even if we needed to “affirm” the rule, how would the exception do it? Where is the logic?

The answer is that, in this idiom, the verb “to prove” has an archaic meaning. It once meant merely “to put to the test”.

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By standing in contrast to the instances, the exception tests the rule or, in the jeweller’s term, “assays” it.

In a delightful sonnet, Shakespeare describes things which, like a member of the opposite sex, are often “…past reason hunted (but), no sooner had, past reason hated…”

Such a thing, he writes, is “…a bliss in proof and, proved, a very woe…” While you were “proving” (chasing, testing) it, it looked heavenly.

But, upon proof (on attaining it), it turned out to be more hideous than Echidne’s brood. Do not ask me if the pudding is delicious. Prove it (test it) with your own taste buds.

The verb prove comes from the French prover and the Latin probare (to test). Probare has also given us the verb to probe. This is in line with our theme.

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To probe is not necessarily to affirm but merely to “test”, for instance, somebody’s probity.

Probity (integrity) comes from the Latin adjective probus (honest) and has given us the noun probation (a system in which an offender is placed under the supervision of an officer.

The trial period — the time taken to test if the offender has genuinely reformed — is also called probation.

In law, probate is the process of officially testing the validity of somebody’s will. In a back-formation, we have the noun probe, such as the one facing Samuel Kivuitu and his team.

A space probe is a ship or satellite equipped to obtain scientific information — transmitted back to earth by radio — in outer space.

Space probes will one day affirm whether or not our planet is unique — if it is the only one with a technological ability to conduct such probes.

It would make us the exception which proves the rule that the universe moves unconsciously from the energy released by the Big Bang nearly five billion years ago.

The verb to except (to omit or exclude), the preposition except (other than, apart from), the conjunction excepting (unless), the adjective exceptional (extraordinary) and exceptionable (objectionable) and the verbal phrase to take exception (to object) come from the Old French excepter (to leave out) and the Latin excipere (to take out).

The author is a veteran journalist

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