Kenya's external debt has increased significantly under President Uhuru Kenyatta. The country's total public debt is at Ksh8.2 trillion or 70 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). [Photo/ Standard]
Kenya's external debt has increased significantly under President Uhuru Kenyatta. The country's total public debt is at Ksh8.2 trillion or 70 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). [Photo/ Standard]

The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and The Institute of Social Accountability (TISA) have filed a suit against the Attorney-General and the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary.

They are demanding full disclosure of debt contracts entered into by the current administration. Kenya’s external debt has increased significantly since President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto began their first term in 2013.

The government has, however, refused to make public debt contracts including the $4.7 billion deal with China for the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR). The government has cited national security concerns for keeping the details hidden, even as the public debt burden raises concern and a weak shilling drives dollar-denominated repayments through the roof.

In their suit, KHRC take on the government for allegedly contravening laws on access to information by the public as enshrined in the 2010 constitution. They noted a futile attempt to write to the National Treasury CS in February 2022 seeking the details before they decided to move to court.

They observed that the government had been increasingly borrowing from states, international financial institutions and corporations over the past decade. They also highlighted bonds floated domestically and internationally over the same period.

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“The overall concern that triggered this litigation is that the Cabinet Secretary, National Treasury and Planning continues to borrow in the name of the Republic of Kenya without being accountable to the public and without availing documents related to the borrowing to the public.”

“Government borrowing continues to present a concern as it has contributed to an uproar among the public owing to the ever-increasing cost of living. The obligation to avail these documents to the public is paramount since it is a constitutional and democratic requirement for citizens to engage actively and meaningfully on public finance and debt matters,” KHRC noted in a statement.

In a different case last year in which petitioners sought details of the SGR contract, Public Works principal secretary Solomon Kitungu stated that releasing the documents would  undermine Kenya’s national security, “since terms in the contract touch on foreign government information with implications on national security and foreign relations.”

SGR, Kenya’s most expensive infrastructure project, has never turned a profit four years since it began operations, forcing taxpayers to plug the deficits.

Two activists—Khelef Khalifa and Wanjiru Gikonyo— had filed the petition at the High Court in Mombasa seeking to obtain all contracts, agreements, and studies for the construction and operation of the SGR.

READ MORE>>Govt Defends Its Decision To Keep SGR Contracts Secret

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