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Nkayi Road an emotional issue – Minister Mhona

The Sunday News

Andile Tshuma, Sunday News Reporter

TRANSPORT and Infrastructural Development Minister Felix Mhona has described the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road as an emotional issue that requires urgent attention saying the Government was making efforts to ensure funds were made available for the expedition of construction work at the most critical parts of the stretch to make it trafficable. 

Speaking to Sunday News on the sidelines of a corporate governance meeting for boards of public entities last week, the minister said the Government was aware of the years of false starts to repairs at the Nkayi Road as well as other roads in the region.

He promised that his ministry was going to attend to it as he was aware of the importance of the road.  

Minister Mhona said Government was in the process of finalising due processes to ensure that at least 15 kilometres of the most critical stretch of Nkayi Road was attended to in the coming weeks, while the greater portion of the road would be prioritised from the $144.5 billion budget allocation. 

“Those roads are emotional roads. We say they are emotional roads because their state impacts negatively on the economic performance of our country. They are at the centre of a number of the citizenry, in terms of how they view such roads and certain political discourses have emerged but I assure you they are such important roads. It is sad that over the years, roads such as Nkayi and Tsholotsho Roads were neglected. 

“And to show that we have not forgotten about them, even during the pre-budget seminar, the Minister of Finance (Prof Mthuli Ncube) actually had to single out the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road, to say that road has to be done. As we speak, we are done with the procurement processes, and in very few weeks, you will see my team moving on site to proceed with the works,” said Minister Mhona. 

The minister called for public private partnerships which he said could help to ensure that resources were evenly spread out and that more work was covered in less time, to allow Government and ministries the flexibility to take on multiple projects simultaneously. 

“I can assure the citizenry that not necessarily the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road only, but within the region, there are some roads that are very topical. We can cite the Bulawayo-Kezi-Gwanda- Maphisa, just to mention a few. 

“We have got a number of such roads. What we have done is, we cannot do the entire stretch completely, but we need to start now. For instance, the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road, we will just go and do the 15 kilometres now as a matter of urgency, then we priorities the bigger chunk from our 2023 budget allocation. 

“I can assure you that we will soon be doing all our roads. We also invite private partnerships together with the Government so that we partake in the exercise of rebuilding our roads. I’m happy that we are having such arrangements, where private player together with Government can take a stretch, rehabilitate it and collect revenue through tolling, that’s one way of availing funding for such infrastructural projects,” he said. 

He said the development thrust was built on the instructive wisdom of President Mnangagwa of leaving no-one and no place behind as the country strains towards Vision 2030.

“The ministry is mandated by the Roads Act to take over neglected roads. If you see such roads, know that we are coming and we therefore call for patience and please tolerate us as we have other competing projects that need the same resources. But I do concur that such roads have to be rehabilitated,” said Minister Mhona. 

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Investor to pump in Sh20b to reclaim Yala swamp, create 2,000 jobs

Members of Kanyaboli Site Support group monitoring Yala swamp. [File, Standard]

Siaya County residents will benefit from a Sh20 billion project after the National Land Commission allocated Lake Agro Ltd some 17,250 acres of land at the Yala Swamp for agricultural use in a 66 years lease agreement.

NLC commissioners Reginald Okumu, Esther Mathenge, James Tuitoek and Tiyah Galgalo held public hearings of the intended allocation of LR. Nos Usonga/Usonga/Block 1/4, 7 & 8 to Lake Agro Ltd between June 13 and 16th  this year in Siaya.

Yesterday, Mr Okumu , who chaired the panel listening to grievances raised by residents, told The Sunday Standard that the commission made the decision after the investors met requisite recommendations to invest in the area.

“Considering the length of time it takes to reclaim land and heavy capital requirements which includes costs of completion of reclamation of the land which includes land reserved for the Yimbo, Alego and Usonga communities, we are of the view that a lease term of 66 years is appropriate to Lake Agro Limited,” said Okumu.

The commission recommended that Siaya County Government, Lake Agro Limited and communities of Yimbo, Alego and Usonga formulate an MoU on the roles and responsibilities of each party.

Okumu said this will ensure better management of resources with recommendations of Yala Delta Land Use Development Plan providing reclamation of parcels reserved for communities.

The National Land Commission wants public agencies including interested parties charged with mandates touching on matters of environment, conservation, sustainable management and use of land based resources discharge their responsibilities in line with applicable laws and processes.

“It is therefore our finding that approximately 17,250 acres of Yala Swamp in consideration for allocation is public land held in trust by County Government of Siaya under Article 62(2) of the Constitution and not community land as submitted by objecting parties,” said Okumu.

Advocate Patrick Ogolla who represented Lake Agro Ltd during the hearings, said the company will create 2,000 jobs for residents and will engage in large scale rice, sugarcane, soya and fish farming.

He said the company had already spent Sh55 million on the parcel which is a commitment to investing in the farm besides a plan to create a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative for the community.

Ogolla said these initiatives include scholarship programs for children in the community and 15 per cent of employees to be from the community for available job opportunities.

Ogolla said the sugar factory was already 70 per cent complete while the rice and soya mills rehabilitated for operation. They will also build schools, roads, hospitals and support locals to reclaim their portion of the swamp and develop it.

He told the hearing that transaction between Dominion Farms Limited and Lake Agro Limited has not been concluded due to various conditions that need to be met and that they have no intention of creating animosity having no part in naming the said Block Usonga/Usonga.

“Lake Agro Limited practised due diligence presenting the National Land Commission with the relevant documents, 9,250 acres was set apart in 1970s in regards to public land provisioning   the county council to hold in trust for the community of the area, this process was carried out in accordance with section 1(17) of the Constitution and the Trust Land Act,” said Ogolla.

He said there have been some objectors who claimed not to have been compensated in 1970 and that there had been clarifications from the representatives of the 82 families that they were compensated for their buildings and crops.

Ogolla told the hearing that the 82 families were not compensated for their land because the understanding was that they were to be resettled in the land after reclamation, in 2006, a further setting apart was done by the county council with an additional 8,000 acres.

Dominion Farms Limited was brought on board to commercialize the utilization of the Swamp and increase the benefits to the Community, the investor was given a lease of 25 years on what is now Usonga/Usonga Block 1/4 measuring 8,000 acres.

This was done by the county councils of Siaya and Bondo so that the investor may initiate agricultural projects, which included rice, banana, and sugarcane as well as cotton production in addition to aquaculture farming.

The Dominion Farms Limited venture was touted as the single largest investment project in the region, whose agricultural interests were seen as a major boon to the economy of Siaya, it was hoped that the investment would spur economic development in the entire Lake Basin but it exited the scene seven years before the conclusion of its contract.

However, the project encountered severe hurdles when an additional 8,000 acres that were set aside in 2006 was to be leased to Dominion Farms Limited for expansion, Communities raised concerns that they had been overlooked while the investor was being considered.

Community agitation plus other factors led to the exit of Dominion Farms Limited and the formation of a Joint Committee of the County Assembly of Siaya which invited Lake Agro Limited to take over what Dominion Farms Limited had invested in the Swamp.

Yala Ecosystem site support group,Yala Swamp Community Land Committee, Yimbo Ber CBO, Community Wildlife Committee, Bunyala Yala Ecosystem site support Group, Yala Planning Advisory Committee, Nature Kenya Conservation Alliance of Kenya, Lake City Investment Company Limited were listed as objectors to Lake Agro Limited take over.

Community Initiative Action Group Kenya, former Alego Usonga MP Samuel Weya, Col. Wabwire Mabati,Yala ICCA, Edwin Ogwe, Samaki Working Group of Kenya, Yimbo and Alego communities, Yala Swamp Indigenous Community and 82 families on matters concerning Yimbo were also in the list who did not want the new investor to take over the project.

County Government was listed as the Respondent in the matter while Kenya Wildlife Service, National Environmental Management Authority, Water Resources Authority, Lake Basin Development Authority, County Assembly of Siaya and Lake Agro Limited were listed as interested parties in the matter.

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Aqaba Container Terminal Continues to Move Forward with its School Transformation and Education Program (STEP)

Aqaba Container Terminal, the preferred gateway to the Levant region and beyond, has announced that it is currently implementing its School Transformation and Education Program (STEP) for the third year in a row. This initiative is part of the company’s continuous commitment to improving the learning environment in the schools of Aqaba.

This year, the STEP initiative provided eight schools with 93 whiteboards, and two schools received two interactive boards. In addition, 21 water coolers were installed in five schools. 

ACT also launched its annual “Ekfal Taleb” campaign, as part of its ongoing commitment to improving educational opportunities, in collaboration with the Helping Hand for Relief and Development organization. The campaign also cooperated with the Aqaba Directorate of Education and provided 300 backpacks, to students from low-income families, on the first day of school. The school bags contained all the necessary school supplies that cover the students’ needs throughout the academic year.

Commenting on the occasion, CEO of the Aqaba Container Terminal, Soren Jensen said, “Investing in and giving back to the local community remains one of ACT’S most important brand messaging pillars. We take our corporate social responsibility seriously, so we will always remain committed to implementing the STEP initiative as a way to provide students with a better learning environment. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our partners for helping us reach a wider community.”

The STEP initiative was launched in 2020 and serves as an extension and continuation of ACT’s previous two education-focused initiatives; the Student Sponsorship project (Ekfal Taleb) which aims to provide students with essential school supplies and the School Maintenance project, which focuses on repairing and maintaining local schools. Each year, the STEP project will focus on improving different and necessary educational aspects as needed by the school to ensure that all students gain access to a high-quality learning environment.

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It can be hard to distinguish the cultural claims of right and left. Just look at Qatar | Kenan Malik

“Everyone has their beliefs and cultures. We welcome and respect that. All we ask is that other people do the same for us.” So insists Yasir al-Jamal, deputy general secretary of the Qatar 2022 supreme committee for delivery and legacy for the World Cup.

The torrent of criticism that has poured down on Qatar at the start of the World Cup, particularly over its treatment of women, gay people and migrant workers, has also created a pushback, both from supporters of the Qatari regime and those who see in the criticism only western “performative moral outrage”, “colonial myths” and “orientalist stereotypes”.

Certainly, there is hypocrisy and racism woven into the discussion of Qatar. That should not, however, be a shield to protect Qatar or elicit “respect” for its culture and mores.

What al-Jamal considers to be Qatari cultural beliefs to be welcomed and respected by the rest of the world are rejected by many Qataris themselves. Qatari gay, lesbian and trans people live in fear of imprisonment, even death, because their own beliefs and cultural ways are not just not respected by the authorities but brutally repressed.

Many thousands of Qatari women do not “welcome and respect” the denial of equal rights. Nor do tens of thousands of migrant workers facing brutal treatment in a country that bans trade unions.

It is not western liberals who first raised these issues, but oppressed Qataris themselves and workers across the global south forced to toil there. These are the people we betray if we “respect” Qatari culture as defined by the Qatari authorities.

Cultures are not fixed, homogenous entities, but porous and contested from within. Much of today’s discussion about cultural respect ignores the diversity and conflict within cultures and has become a means of allowing those in power to impose their vision of an “authentic” culture.

Beyond the immediate debate over Qatar lies a deeper clash between “universalists” and “cultural relativists”. On the one side are those who insist that there are certain universal norms, such as equality, democracy, tolerance, to which all societies should adhere; on the other, those who argue that every culture has its own set of values and mores that should be respected in its own terms and who view universalism as an ethnocentrically European outlook.

It is a debate far more complex than often presented by either side. A historical perspective shows us, ironically, that the concept of universalism, far from being merely a European outlook, was developed and enlarged through struggles against European rule, while many of the ideas of cultural relativism find their roots in European Romanticism.

It was through the Enlightenment in the 18th century that the ideas of equality and of universal rights became a central feature of European thinking. This was also, though, the age of slavery and colonialism. Many Enlightenment philosophers combined a defence of equality and universalism with racist attitudes and an acceptance of, even support for, slavery. Universalism became also a weapon of colonialism through the insistence that European nations had to rule the non-European world to civilise it.

The cynicism with which European – and, more broadly, western – authorities have exploited the concept of universalism should not, however, detract from its significance to any progressive view of the world. In the debate over the Enlightenment, supporters and critics both present it as a uniquely European phenomenon. For the one, it is a demonstration of the greatness of Europe; for the other, a reminder that its ideals are tainted by racism and colonialism. Both miss the importance of the non-European world in helping to shape many of those ideals.

While many of those who stood in the Enlightenment tradition and declared that “all men are created equal” were willing to endorse slavery and colonialism, it was through the struggles of enslaved people, of colonial subjects, of working-class people, and of women, to emancipate themselves that the ideas of equality and universalism were given a fuller meaning. Universalism might have been a product of the Enlightenment but it was also both a weapon for, and developed to its fullest extent by, those struggling against European rule and against restrictions imposed by the elite.

Meanwhile, arguments for cultural relativism emerged in Europe in the conservative backlash against universalist perspectives. A key figure was the German Romantic philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, whose concept of culture still shapes much thinking today.

For Herder, what made each people or nation – or Volk – unique was its Kultur: its particular language, literature, history and modes of living. The unique nature of each Volk was expressed through its volksgeist – the spirit of a people refined through history. To be a member of a Volk was to think and act in ways given by the Volk. A culture could only be understood in its own terms and every culture had to be protected from outside encroachment if it was to remain authentic.

Herder was a staunch supporter of equality and an opponent of slavery and colonialism. Nevertheless, his cultural relativism and his celebration of cultural purity led him to repulsive, racist views. He abhorred migration and mixed marriages, which he thought were “strongly detrimental to… the uniqueness of a people”.

Today, both left and right find sustenance in Herder’s ideas; in his celebration of cultural differences and his desire to protect the “authenticity” of distinct cultures by protecting them from outside encroachment, whether immigration or globalisation.

A striking feature of the pushback against criticism of Qatar is the prominence of rightwing figures whose usual target is the “woke” left. The American Christian conservative Rod Dreher, a cheerleader for Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orbán, has condemned western “cultural imperialism” towards Qatar, excoriating “the disgusting arrogance of western liberals who treat the diverse peoples of the world as if they are wogs who exist to be humiliated into being civilised”. It is one aspect of the confusion of politics today that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the cultural arguments of left and right.

The concept of universalism has certainly been exploited for reactionary ends. We cannot challenge this, however, by rejecting the universalist perspective for a mossbacked idea of cultural relativism but only by reclaiming a more inclusive form of universalism, one that defends the rights of all, whether in Europe or in Qatar.

  • Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 250 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at

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For democracy to triumph, economic and social well-being must coexist

Jim Kable reviews a new book by Rory Ellison, which thoroughly examines our national systems and offers suggestions for their betterment.

WITH A DEGREE from London University – via University College Rhodesia – Rory Ellison has a background in economics and statistics: covering information systems and financial planning, policy development and review and evaluation, alongside bureaucratic and other governance experience.

An avowed supporter of capitalism, Ellison is not shy of criticising its excesses of the past few decades — and he possesses a low tolerance for injustice. Refreshingly so. And this sensitivity is evident in his book Is Australia still the lucky country? Working together towards greater economic and social well-being

Most will realise the reference to Donald Horne’s 1964 book, The Lucky Country.

But they might not necessarily understand his ironic intent — as suggested in this final chapter paragraph:

‘Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.’

And although Australia has clearly changed in many respects from those years when Horne wrote and Robert Menzies was still Prime Minister, there is some truth in the statement — about our political leaders in particular.

Temporarily in Canberra, ruminating on some of the early chapter headings in Ellison’s book, I walked to the local shopping centre. Reaching the Woden Town Centre Library, I noticed an installation on an exterior wall. Lots of photographs of a culturally diverse community. There was a central explanation from 1999,  titled: ‘Heading for the Lucky Country’ — which it had indeed proved to be for the people in the photographs, having fled wars and persecution and economic distress in former lands.

I mused to myself about the welcome to refugees of the time of Fraser and Hawke/Keating as compared to those of the increasingly xenophobic and punitive governments of the Howard era onwards till now. These latter policies herded, it must be said, by ideologically-aligned press barons — both foreign and domestic.

I am a historian — turned away from studying economics in my matriculation years by the need to fulfil examination requirements in relation to other subjects I was studying. Having returned from nearly two decades of the 1990s/2000s in Japan to a transformed Australia, I found myself trying to understand how the country had become seemingly far more hard-hearted and concerned with its citizens being defined as customers.

There seemed to be a “user-pays” mentality, with many government instrumentalities and utilities sold off into private hands. How had it happened? The country from which I had returned appeared to me far more equal in its ways than the one to which I had returned.

Democracy under threat from cruelty and apathy

Ellison’s book reads to me like a tertiary-level primer, with the first of the 11 chapters defining various political ideologies and philosophies.

It starts with a comparison of the differences between capitalism and socialism — moving into how capitalism functions, explaining monetary policy and the role of government in facilitating economic well-being and social democracy. I am serious when I suggest it reads like a comprehensive text. For anyone wanting to understand how governments generally – and Australia’s in particular – operate, this is a first-rate guide. 

Each chapter runs to around 30 pages in length and from Chapter one onwards deals with a particular aspect of the system of government.

Chapter two covers issues associated with the economic system: employment, income, political institutions, the environment and corporate governance, and how to measure economic and social well-being.

Chapter three explores the many myths associated with capitalism and with the economic system, relating to government, inequality, businesses, people and the wealthy. Chapter four deals with the facts of inequality, explaining its manifestations, causes and consequences – social and otherwise – with suggestions for its eradication. 

Chapter five is ‘Closing the Gap’. No, not that associated with Indigenous Australians, but rather the economic gap increasingly apparent in our society between the top 10%, the top 1% and the top 0.1% (Gina Rinehart, for example) and Australians at the other end of the spectrum who have not inherited wealth though indisputably hard working.

Ellison proposes an idea that has been around (already explored in various parts of the world already) for some time: universal basic income (UBI) set at a basic above-poverty level, for all.

If implemented, it would wipe out entire levels of bureaucracy (Robodebt opportunities forever banished) and the necessity for a myriad of other income assessment procedures — returning a sense of dignity to all.

And along with this raising of the floor – an associated lowering of the ceiling for those with far too much – the concept of a maximum wage mindset. Thus dealing with the corporate profligacy of CEOs receiving millions (hundreds of multiples of the average wage of their employees) and then millions of dollars more in various kinds of bonuses and incentives, even when the company is in a downturn and the CEO is departing early. 

Universal basic income is the only fair option in COVID-19 crisis

Chapter six explains the tax and transfer system: the overall system and then the tax component and the transfer component. It is complex. Chapter seven looks at the size and role of government: what should be done about the public component of government and about privatisation.

The public sector is explained in chapter eight: public service; its role and the significant influences that have shaped it; key public service issues and where it has been steered away from its essential purpose by political interference; contracts and so forth, and a strategic management framework for the achievement of whole-of-government outcomes. 

Importantly, chapter nine examines the nation’s youth, crime, alcohol and drugs, proposals for a good citizenship incentive bonus, and the treatment of minorities and Indigenous Australians.

As Reverend Thomas Barnes of a London church wrote in 1624: 

‘Youth were never more sawcie, yea never more savagely saucie… the ancient are scorned, the honourable are contemned [sic], the magistrate is not dreaded.’ 

That it was ever thus is suggested by a quote attributed to Socrates: 

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs and tyrannise their teachers.

Chapter ten moves on to the political system – citizen engagement, the Senate and preferential voting are explained – with some intriguing suggestions for reform.

The author explores representation in parliament and how the system works (a secretive and corrupted mystery to many of us observing over the past decade), as well as the prime minister and ways to make his or her primacy part of a reformed system of voting. Knowing who would hold that position if a particular party were to be successful at the ballot some six months beforehand would be illuminating — and to hold that position for the entirety of a likely fixed term, too.

Ellison examines the conduct of MPs and parliamentary representatives (unelected officials serving in the offices of ministers and others) although he makes no comment on the sexual scandals in the House and of MPs and ministers. He speaks of writing policy and directing day-to-day business, long-term planning, remuneration issues and about political donations and how to clean up the associated corruption. On compulsory voting he has some interesting ideas for change — and ideas about a permanent public service.

The final chapter, 11, examines the impacts of COVID-19 over the past three years, but with some intelligent forecasting that it would not be over in June (as indeed a new wave with another variant is now flowering). He discusses the issues of vaccinations and boosters, anti-vaxxers. 

Supports via JobKeeper and JobSeeker are examined (cut too soon, his assessment) something a UBI would have handled very well. Ellison points to the differences between state and federal governments in handling COVID and provides comparisons with the rest of the world: vaccines, border closures and so forth.

Each chapter has various sections and each section is explained in easy-to-read point format, supported by quotations from noted economists or commentators (including Richard Denniss and Joseph E Stiglitz) illustrating the points made. 

This is an excellent guide to understanding how our form of democracy works or could work better.

While I might have wanted more on a response to First Australians in the light of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – Voice, Treaty and Truth – it is true that this Statement had been downplayed – dismissed, indeed – by two former prime ministers since its launch in 2017. It was only just before this book was finished that the current Prime Minister committed to its implementation in full.

I would have liked more on the undemocratic influence of lobbyists and of political donations, and also a lengthier discussion on the influence of the press — their presence in parliament, their access to leaked stories and so forth, and their role in influencing elections. These were all “companions in my mind” as I examined the book.

So, is Australia still the “lucky country”?

While ever people of the calibre of Rory Ellison are prepared to so thoroughly examine our national systems and offer such well-thought-out suggestions for its betterment, then I think we can quite rightly say that it is.

‘Is Australia still the lucky country? Working together towards greater economic and social wellbeing’ is available from Amazon for $19.74 (paperback) RRP.

This book was reviewed by an IA Book Club member. If you would like to receive free high-quality books and have your review published on IA, subscribe to Independent Australia for your complimentary IA Book Club membership.

Jim Kable is a retired teacher who taught in rural and metropolitan NSW, in Europe and later, long-term in Japan. He is also a member of the steering committee of political party The New Liberals.

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