Otsieno Namwaya, East Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.

Irregularities Mar Kenya’s COVID-19 Cash Transfers

By Human Rights Watch Press
Published August 26, 2021

Human Rights Watch (HRW) faults Kenya on COVID-19 Cash Transfers.Kenyan authorities failed to design a social security programme that would guarantee everyone an adequate standard of living during the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a report titled We Are All Vulnerable Here: Kenya’s Pandemic Cash Transfer Program Riddled with Irregularities, Human Rights Watch says only a small fraction of vulnerable families in Nairobi benefited from the programme which, it says, was ‘characterised by lack of transparency, cronyism, nepotism and outright favouritism’ as ‘Government officials failed to follow the stated selection criteria or to share information that should have enabled more vulnerable families to enroll’.

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Otsieno Namwaya, East Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.“It is disappointing that an otherwise noble initiative can be this heavily undermined by negligence and inadequate oversight by the authorities,” says Otsieno Namwaya, East Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. “Senior government officials, including President Kenyatta, should demonstrate their commitment to providing crucial support for the vulnerable households, by publicly denouncing the mismanagement of the cash transfer program and ensuring credible investigations.”

Though President Uhuru Kenyatta had announced on May 23, 2020 that he had allocated 10 billion Kenyan Shilling (US$100 million) specifically to cushion the vulnerable households from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch says authorities were not only slow in responding to the needs of the vulnerable households but that when they finally created the eight-month cash transfer programme, ‘it was not only inadequate and short-lived but also lacked basic transparency. It provided no clear information about eligibility, how beneficiaries were identified, or why thousands of households that met the approved criteria were excluded’.

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The Cabinet Secretary for Treasury and Planning, Ukur Yatani, told Human Rights Watch that the main criteria for selecting beneficiaries was households with high poverty index, nearly all of them in informal settlements in the case of Nairobi. It was also limited to households whose heads had certain medical conditions, disability, or other factors.

The programme was carried out by village elders assisted by community health volunteers and youth leaders, supervised by chiefs, who are government employees, Yatani said. But researchers, Human Rights Watch says, found that the chiefs largely ignored the criteria and instead registered their friends and relatives, many of who did not even live in Nairobi.

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Besides the Covid-19 pandemic-related cash transfer, Human Rights Watch says, the government also continued disbursing cash payments under the existing ‘Inua Jamii’ National Safety Net Project. By May 23, 2020, President Kenyatta said the government was already sending out 250 million Kenyan Shillings (US$2.5 million) to the most vulnerable households each week, but did not say when this started. He also said the government had a programme to assist small businesses, but researchers found no evidence that small businesses in informal settlements benefited.