Kenya's ministers over-indulge on 'perks and Mercs'

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Kenya's ministers and senior government officials have been accused of indulging in a culture of "perks and Mercs" after reports that most missed a deadline to hand back extra luxury cars.

More than 1,000 officials were ordered to return top-of-the-range Mercedes, BMWs and Range Rovers two months ago in a crackdown on perks. By selling the surplus cars, the finance minister, Amos Kimumya, said the government would raise £10m for the exchequer.

But it was reported this week that just 105 out of 2,796 vehicles had been surrendered - and only 10 out of 32 Cabinet ministers had complied. Maini Kiai, chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said it was "symptomatic of the sense of entitlement" that ministers and public officials have in Kenya.

"Too many people believe the public purse is part of the personal perks that come with office," he said. "Many ministers have six or seven cars - they give them to their spouses, their kids. It needs a really tough attitude and mentality by the government, but I do not think there is the political will to move a policy like this."

A government spokesman, Dr Alfred Mutua, denied the claim. Dr Mutua claimed that every senior government official had handed in their additional cars. "All ministers have surrendered their other cars. All senior government officials now only have one car each," he said.

President Mwi Kibaki's election victory in 2002 owed much to his promise to rid the country of the grand corruption which had blighted the regime of Daniel Arap Moi. While much has been done to stamp out low level corruption in the form of bribes to police officers and civil servants, senior ministers in Mr Kibaki's government have also been caught up in corruption scandals.

The government's own anti-corruption czar, John Githongo, wrote to Mr Kibaki informing him of charges of corruption against cabinet ministers in the so-called "Anglo Leasing" scandal. Large sums of money were being paid to companies that did not exist and Mr Githongo claimed ministers were involved. When Mr Kibaki refused to act on it, Mr Githongo went public and is now in hiding in Britain. No one has so far been charged in connection with Anglo Leasing, although three ministers have resigned.

The US Senator, Barack Obama, on a visit this week to Kenya, where his father is from, warned Kenya's government that corruption in the East African country was a "crisis".

Mr Kiai said that corruption has a corrosive effect on Kenyan society. "Corruption leads to insecurity, it leads to poverty, it leads to the sense of despair we have in this country."

Government cars, which all carry the letters GK (Government of Kenya) on their number plates, are only supposed to be used for official government business. Yet, GK number plates are often spotted at Nairobi's shopping centres, bars and restaurants at weekends.

In May, northern and eastern parts of Kenya were suffering from a terrible drought, leading international aid agencies to launch massive public appeals in Britain for funds. At the same time, however, MPs devoted a large chunk of parliamentary time to a debate on increasing their travel expenses. The subsequent vote was passed unanimously with not one MP expressing any dissent.