Sunday June 21, 2020
By NYAMBEGA GISESA
Chief of Defence Forces Robert Kibochi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
A month after taking office, Chief of Defence Forces Robert Kibochi has hit the ground running with a visit to soldiers fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Gen Kibochi toured forward operating bases in Afmadow, Tabda, Hoosingow and Bilis Qooqani, where the told troops that he would ensure Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) acquires modern weapons.
“You are the arrowhead that we must sharpen. We will do that by providing you with the right tools to perform your duty,” he told the soldiers.
Mission readiness means soldiers need to be well-kitted and equipped. It should translate to early warning systems and detecting enemy movement, congregation and counter plans.
The KDF head has more to do than just emphasising on training if he intends to leave a rich legacy.
He needs to address the drawn-out thorny issue of soldiers’ risk and hardship allowances.
Despite the threats arising from terrorism, which leads to deployment in dangerous areas, soldiers do not get risk allowance.
The soldiers, in a number of circumstances, also have to meet their travel costs when in areas categorised as hardship.
A soldier gets a monthly hardship allowance of Sh600, translating to Sh20 daily.
The allowance has never been reviewed since it came into effect in 1978.
Kenya’s new President Daniel arap Moi formed the Armed Forces Pay Review Board (AFPRB) on December 14, 1978 with the mandate to look at pay, allowances and fringe benefits for all ranks of the military and others under the Defence Council.
The pay scale is dependent on the cost of living, comparison with remuneration of other jobs in relevant sectors, budgetary considerations, wage guidelines and the strength of the economy.
Such reviews were to be undertaken every four years or any time the president considered them necessary.
Following a rise in the cost of living, it was expected that the allowances and fringe benefits would be reviewed in the early 1990s. It never happened.
“This allowance is paid to officers posted to specified hardship areas. It is paid at the rate of 30 per cent of an officer’s basic annual salary to a maximum of Sh1,200 per month for married officers and Sh600 per month for singles,” the report on the AFPRB presented to President Moi in January 1993 read.
While making its recommendations in 1992, the AFPRB said it had considered “the rationale and basis of paying this allowance and finds the arrangement satisfactory”.
When soldiers’ salaries were increased and accommodation allowance regularised in 2015, other allowances and fringe benefits were not put into consideration.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also exposed the stretched accommodation facilities at military bases.
Enforcing the 14-day quarantine during the pandemic has been a nightmare.
The KDF has houses for single and married officers in its barracks.
As a result of increased numbers of married soldiers, single quarters have been transformed to accommodate them.
This has strained facilities for single non-commissioned officers.
The coronavirus crisis also brought to the bare the high number of sergeants and warrant officers living in barracks.
The armed forces law requires them to find accommodation outside military establishments.
Since the government first targeted the Defence Forces Canteen Organisation (Defco) in a bid to extend its tax base in 2013, prices of basic commodities have been on the rise.
The confusion arises from the wording “supplies for official use” in National Treasury budget estimates.
Defco is the official trading channel for soldiers and their families.
According to the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), “for official use” implies the items supplied to Defco should be taxed.
The new KDF boss needs to seek clarification from KRA and the National Treasury.
Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani still used the phrase during the reading of the budget estimates early this month.
“Goods for KDF and the National Police Service (NPS) are charged import declaration fee and railway development levy. These charges reduce allocations of these institutions. I have proposed to exempt them from the levies. The goods include materials, supplies, equipment, machines and vehicles imported for the official use by KDF and police,” Mr Yatani said.
The 2016 Finance Act introduced into the value added tax (VAT) exemption schedule all goods, including the ones the minister listed for KDF and the police.
The Finance Act also zero-rated goods supplied to Defco.
However, the zero rating was done away with upon the enactment of the 2013 VAT Act.
It implies that imports and purchases by the KDF and Defco became either taxable at 16 per cent or exempt for the goods specified in the first schedule of the Act.
The repealed Customs and Excise Act provided for remission of duty on supplies made to the armed forces, Defco and other privileged institutions.
This provision was repealed by the enactment of the 2015 Excise Duty Act, effectively implying that excise duty became chargeable on goods supplied to the KDF and the canteen from December 1, 2015.
Notably, the provisions exempting goods to KDF and police are silent on the status of supplies made to Defco and canteens run by the NPS.
The Treasury, through a December 15, 2016 letter sought to provide clarification on the matter, saying that though Defco is the welfare arm of the military, its operations are an integral part of the armed forces.
The Treasury said items to Defco should be considered as official supplies to the KDF.
However, KRA continues to subject the supplies to Defco to VAT and excise duty.
The standard gun of choice will be also an important matter for Gen Kibochi.
Some years ago, KDF announced plans to cut down on the use of the A447 as the standard gun of choice for infantry and special operations.
The armed forces said they wanted to move to the FN Scar rifle, a firearm believed to be the most powerful assault rifle on the planet.
Military analysts say it rivals or even performs better than AK47, M4 and M16 rifles.
The Belgian-made FN Special Operation Forces Combat Assault Rifle (Scar), is a 2009 manufactured semi-automatic firearm.
However, KDF has silently gone back to using the AK-47, to the chagrin of soldiers.
The KDF rank-and-file have been told that the Russian-made AK-47 is a stop-gap measure as the military begins implementing plans to change to more sophisticated weapons.
Police have begun using more advanced firearms.
From early 2018, the NPS started receiving Spanish made CZ Scorpion EVO 3 A1 airsoft rifles and the FN Scar rifles to replace the aging and cumbersome German-made G3 and MP5 guns.
Very few KDF units are using the FN Scar.
Compared to Kenya’s neighbours, the fighter jets used by the KDF are outdated.
For decades, there has been talk of replacing F-5 jets, some of which were controversially bought from Jordan.
There is also the issue of the armoured personnel carriers (APCs) used by the country’s armed forces. The ones in use were single sourced from South Africa.
The UN identified flaws with Kenyan APCs deployed to South Sudan as part of the peacekeeping mission.