A $1,000 wheelbarrow has become a symbol of Kenya’s rampant government corruption

Cheaper options are available.
Cheaper options are available.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya
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The residents of Bungoma county in western Kenya are in an uproar over wheelbarrows. Specifically, a set of 10 wheelbarrows that cost a whopping 1.09 million shillings, or about $10,300, in taxpayer money.

The purchase of the wheelbarrows by the county agriculture ministry emerged in an audit report last week and has quickly become a focal point for frustration over government graft. Local craftsmen and residents stormed a county slaughterhouse this week looking for the wheelbarrows, while activists have started calling for governor Ken Lusaka’s resignation.

Lusaka has defended the purchase by saying that they were ”not the ordinary wheelbarrows that we know.” Instead, “these are wheelbarrows that are made of stainless non-carcinogenic material that are also insoluble…[and] used in the food industry.” He added that they “meet international standards” and are used in facilities like the Kenya Meat Commission, responsible for meat exports.

Ordinary wheelbarrows in Bungoma Town cost about 5,000 shillings, according to local traders, compared with the 109,320 shillings that the government paid.

Kenya continues to struggle with corruption, one of the top concerns among the public according to a new poll. Activist John Githongo wrote earlier this month about officials’ seemingly insatiable appetite for graft:

This is partly because the economy has grown and there is more to “eat,” as corruption is called in Kenya. More eating is being done than at any time since we started trying to measure graft in the 1990s.

In July, Kenya’s auditor general said that only 1.2% of the government’s 2013-14 budget was properly accounted for and that there were “persistent and disturbing problems in collection and accounting for revenue.”

The purchases of military vehicles, office space for the police, bus tickets and other travel expenses by officials, seminars and publicly-funded training for various industries have all come under suspicion. Last year, authorities found over 12,000 false names on government payrolls. Lack of faith in government probity is widespread: Kenya ranks 145th out of 174 countries on Transparency International’s global corruption perceptions index.

Lusaka has come under fire for his spending before. Locals criticized the county’s 2013 budget in which 53 million shillings was allocated for entertainment and 20 million shillings for a “pornography awareness” campaign that was eventually scrapped after public criticism. Last week, Lusaka fired two county officials over the unspecified misuse of public funds. He said that any official found guilty of corruption would immediately be shown the door.