Outrage in Kenya as government spends £7m on fleet of Mercedes

Meera Selva
Tuesday 31 January 2006 01:00

Kenyans, who are bombarded daily with news of corruption and famine in their country, were outraged to learn that government ministers had spent £7m on vehicles including 57 Mercedes Benz and fleets of four-wheel drive cars in their first 18 months in office.

The government spent the money between January 2003 and September 2004, despite having promised to fight poverty and corruption in its election campaign, according to a report published by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. That money could have paid for eight years of schooling for 25,000 children.

Government spending on luxury cars is not new, and Kenyans have long had their own word - Wabenzi - to describe Mercedes-driving politicians, but these revelations have come amid the government's fight for survival amid a multimillion- pound corruption scandal.

President Mwai Kibaki is already under pressure to resign after his former anti-corruption adviser John Githongo accused several ministers of stealing public funds via fictitious companies. Mr Kibaki's vice-president, finance minister and energy minister have all been implicated in the scams, but he has taken no action against them.

"This government seems to feel it has no responsibility to stop corruption and waste within its own ranks," said Mwalimu Mati, executive director of Transparency International Kenya. "If it will not spend wisely and investigate cases of corruption, it is left with no credibility."

One local newspaper said the report showed that "our leaders are committed to turning the country into a luxury resort for a few and hell for the majority. That is why ... the men and women we pamper with our taxes are falling over themselves for the goodies of their exalted office."

The High Court alone spent £650,000 on 13 Mercedes Benz E series, the report said. Most of the vehicles were given to officials and politicians for their personal use. The report's authors said the spending on luxury cars was unnecessary as the previous regime had already bought expensive vehicles.

The World Bank last week agreed to lend Kenya $120m (£70m) despite Mr Githongo's revelations. President Kibaki has also appealed for $150m to feed the four million Kenyans who are facing food shortages caused by droughts.

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