Government is essentially considered a political system by which a country/society is administered. Its performance is measured by its ability to provide efficient, effective and quality public services in addition to protecting and preserving human rights which includes the right to information. Technically, the establishment and recognition of any governance system is considered a social contract whose execution is for the people.
Infrastructure projects in East Africa have seen tremendous recognition over the past couple of years, championed by East African Community regimes. Governments in the region have marketed these projects to those they are accountable to as critical investments that would ultimately improve standards of living and lower the cost of doing business. Notable projects include the 472 km Mombasa – Nairobi Standard Guage Railway, the Nairobi Expressway, the commissioning of the East African Crude Oil pipeline and the Tanzanite/New Selander sea-crossing bridge in Tanzania that connects the central business district and Coco Beach. These projects have/will gargled up $3.6 billion,$7 million, $4 -5 billion and $120 million respectively.
Infrastructure projects in most developing economies such as countries in Africa are predominantly financed by external debt, owing to the deficiencies in their internal revenue coffers. Although such financing models are not uncommon, governments in East Africa have adopted a tendency of ‘hiding’ the official contracts entered between them and the bi/multilateral financing institutions sponsoring these projects, leaving the citizens perplexed and disoriented, as they try to fathom what terms and conditions were concurred. When the rubber meets the road in the fullness of time and governments are required to initiate repayments of the facility, they forcefully bend the citizens’ arm and impose additional/incremental taxes, creating uproar and dissent from the citizenry who end up facing a further decrease in their disposable incomes.
It can be argued that this murky situation could have and can be mitigated if the infrastructure development financing contracts were made public. Granted, the public is by no means opposing tax increments especially if the remittances are channeled to initiatives that support economic wellbeing, however in an ideal world, governments should consider engaging its citizenry before, during and after contract formation, as a way of creating a formidable understanding amongst all the parties involved, championing amongst all things transparency and ultimately minimizing occurrences of obstruction to any future tax increments.
The Legal Profession Contribution
In Kenya, the legal fraternity has honorably strived to nudge the government to release contracts of infrastructure projects to the public through formal requests and court orders. However, their efforts are yet to bear any fruit as Government agencies withhold the information further contravening the Access to Information Act of 2016.
To comprehensively ensure a truthful discussion between the state and its financiers (taxpayers), the legal profession needs to be the bridge between these two players. On one hand, they could help the government in establishing and coordinating an effective communication framework that would support the release and sensitization of the infrastructure projects financing contracts and on the other, they could aid the public to decipher and understand contents of these contracts by breaking it down into digestible chunks. By so doing, the public would acknowledge why financing such projects is paramount, how their inclusion is valued and what their contribution will be in short, medium and long term.