Public participation in the Privatization Bill 2023 on Tuesday, January 31, 2023, suffered a major setback after three counties in the Lower Eastern region unanimously rejected the bill.
The ministry of finance privatization commission public forum held at Athi-River Machakos County instead turned chaotic with residents dismissing it as a well-crafted skim that was meant to shortchange them.
A handy of local administration officers and a few clergymen had been invited for the meeting to represent Machakos, Makueni and Kitui counties but locals got a wind of the forum and joined the meeting to air their concerns and grievances.
The participants sharply differed with the organizers who were insisting on the importance of privatizing government parastatals for profitability.
"We totally disagree with this commission. We read malice in the whole exercise and that is why the meeting is being held in a secluded hotel. How can the commission issue that this is a forum with locals from three counties? Where are the Kitui and Makueni representatives? The commission also alleged that the county government's involvement is not necessary. How can this just be a purely national government issue?
"Does that mean that the county government representation is not relevant at all? We highly doubt the intention of this bill and we want you as a commission to file just the right report that we declined to endorse the bill," Martin Muthama a resident of Machakos questioned.
Participants questioned the intention of the bill saying the public participation forum had a predetermined outcome.
According to locals, the selection of participants was biased translating to misrepresentation. The organizers had the challenge of explaining the selection criteria.
"We also do not understand why 80 per cent of the invited participants are chiefs and assistant chiefs. The administrators have not consulted locals in the villages and that means they will not represent the true voice of the people. The language being used in these forums is technical and you are not giving satisfactory answers to our concerns. Such a serious matter requires wide consultation from locals, "Julius Mutua said.
Locals vowed not to support the privatization bill citing insufficient and unsatisfactory explanations of how the privatization of companies will impact on social and economic lives of locals as well as a lack of guarantee that the parastatals will be profitable and sustainable.
"Some of the government entities are in a pathetic state. Who are these investors willing to buy such parastatals? The problem is not public institutions but mismanagement. The government is capable to run public entities well if there is a will and commitment. Corruption menace and tedious procurement procedures are killing public entities. We cannot agree that privatization will revive the ailing public institutions," Mark Mwendo said.
The privatization commission Lower Eastern team leader Kennedy Ondieki admitted that the myriad challenges the forum faced were due to a lack of sufficient consultation and awareness. He also acknowledged that locals had raised genuine concerns that require to be addressed in the bill.
"We have realized there was a misunderstanding of our presence here. The participants harshly introduced their concerns but our aim was just to sensitize them on the privatization bill which the government has introduced to shed light on the procedure of privatizing public entities. The forums will continue across the country, "Ondieki said refusing to take questions from the media.
East Africa Portland Cement Company PLC and Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) are among two major parastatals in lower Eastern said to be eyed for privatization.