Raila: “Theft of public resources is now called hustling”

(Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga addressing former Parliamentarians)

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s latest speech while addressing the former members of parliament in Kenya have triggered a fresh discussion on the war against graft.

Here is his speech:

“It’s a great pleasure to be among so many real colleagues. Many times, many people forget that I am no longer in Parliament.

Many times you hear Raila is doing or not doing this or that and you may be tempted to believe I am something other than a former MP and leader of my party ODM. The fact is, I am a former Member of Parliament and you are the real and true colleagues.

Being a parliamentarian has its advantages. It puts you at the Centre of action. You are able to shape the country through laws. You are able to say “I am an elected representative of my people.” Of course there is a salary and other allowances attached to all these.

But being former parliamentarian as we are here is not that bad either. It enables us to observe developments, the comings and goings in our country dispassionately and a little more objectively.

Sometimes it enables us look back at positions we took before in the context of what we have now and come to a different conclusion about what we did or what should be done now.

I want to believe that this forum is inspired by that spirit of wanting to share what we know from the experiences of being at the Centre of the action and outside.

I am glad that as leaders, you have declared governance as your area of interest. And I am not shy to refer to you as leaders. At its best; leadership is not about positions we hold.

The sixth President of the U.S. John Quincy Adams said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

I believe you are leaders despite being out of Parliament and I will share my thoughts with you with that recognition in mind.

Our country remains a nation on the move, one that refuses to settle. Change or the struggle for change is and has always been the only constants in our country. And that struggle for change is as old as this nation.

That spirit of always fighting for more and better for our people has separated our country from many in Africa.

I believe it has made us a better nation. Since 1991, we have been able to restore multiparty democracy, form a grand a coalition government, promulgate a new constitution, introduce Devolution, create affirmative action positions for women and other disadvantaged groups, among other changes, all in a bid to improve our governance.

Today, our country is in the middle of another bid for change. That bid is a product of the Handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and myself that gave birth to the Building Bridges Initiative. As you are aware, the BBI has identified nine thematic areas where action is required if we are to be a better-governed and stronger nation in the years and decades ahead.

None of the nine issues is more critical than the other. But the threat posed to our nation by some is urgent, disturbing and forever present.

All of you here have been through electoral contests and you will agree with me that divisive elections present clear and present danger to the survival of our country.

You saw it in the run up to 1992 elections and after. You saw it in 1997. You saw it in 2007 and it was rearing its ugly head again in 2017.

The anger and danger caused by the reality and feeling of marginalization of regions, communities and age groups is real in our country. So is the danger of the ever-growing ethnic antagonism, lack of ethos, insecurity and, above all, corruption.We have identified corruption as an existential threat to our nation.

It is killing our economy, making our politics increasingly dirty and violent, compromising our security and confining citizens to unnecessary suffering because public resources are diverted to private accounts and enterprises.

Some of you were in Parliament in the era of Cabinet Ministers instead of Cabinet Secretaries and in the era when the office of the Leader of Official Opposition was fully functional with State funding. The BBI is recommending we revert to these as part of our traditions and as a way of strengthening governance.

As a country, we must reinvent the spirit of selfless service and not riches that was the original drive in the quest for public offices.

As recently as 1992, getting rich was not the drive for getting into public office especially Parliament.

I recall that in 1992, when we collected Jaramogi’s allowance of about Ksh 4,000 and took it to him, he was surprised that people were being paid at all. He said he had thought being in Parliament was just a service they were rendering to the nation.

With a net pay of Ksh20, 737, Jaramogi and his colleagues were able to serve their constituents to their satisfaction.

I remember that as recently as 2002 when I was minister for Energy, my net pay of Ksh70, 650 served me just fine.

I am not in any way trying to call for low pay for legislators. I am aware the cost of living has risen over the years and the value of our currency has gone down. But there is an important fact behind these past modest salaries. It is that public service was not meant to enrich people. Our pride as parliamentarians was the honour to serve our country.

That is currently deeply corrupted. It is the spirit we need to reinvent. It will help us reject the moneybags wrecking our country, our economy and our politics through the false generosity of purporting to be contributing to the public what has been stolen from them. And we want to strengthen devolved systems and the accountability around them by ensuring more resources go to the counties and that those resources serve the intended purposes.

Our country needs your guidance based on your experience in these matters.

Some of these problems we are confronting today have been with us for generations. In fact, some of us have accepted them as way of life.

Theft of public resources is now called hustling.

Dividing people along ethnic lines is now called fighting for my people.

The sacking corrupt and incompetent individual is now called targeting our people.

Changing this pattern of events is not going to be easy. But it must and has to be done or we will have no nation to save.

I have said it before and I will say it again. Kenya must change course. It’s not a matter of if, but when. And it has to be this year. Change is coming through the BBI.

We must join hands in this attempt to get our nation back on track. To achieve this, we will have to rise beyond merely being leaders and be great leaders.

Former US First Lady Rosalyn Carter told us: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

It is my wish that we rise and not just be leaders but great leaders.
Thank you.” Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga

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