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Corruption Seen as Cause of Kenya's Income Gap

Kenya's income gap between the rich and the poor is one of the world's largest, according to a recent study, and a leading Kenyan economist says corruption among the country's political elite is one of the main reasons behind the gap.

Kenyan economic consultant Dennis Kabaara Friday told VOA a key reason why Kenya has one of the widest income gaps in the world is that public servants, who control government spending, are allowed to run businesses. Channeling public funds into those businesses, he says, is one of the root causes of Kenya's wide income gap.

According to Mr. Kabaara, Kenya's political elite are among the country's richest people.

"Politicians had control over resources. We had this huge finding in 1971, this huge commission recommendation, that changed everything, which basically allowed public servants to engage in business," he said. "And that's where the real corruption started. The fact that we haven't separated politics from business, is a very, very big one [reason for income gap]."

Mr. Kabaara says it would take what he calls "generational change" for the government to enact policies curtailing politicians' business activities.

Although public servants are not prohibited from engaging in business practices, the government has taken some steps on the issue. As of this year, all civil servants, including elected officials, must declare their total wealth, although the information is not made public.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua denies that business ownership by public officials is behind corruption in Kenya or that graft is responsible for the wide income disparity.

He says the government has embarked on an economic recovery plan that will see money and other resources spread more evenly across the country.

"This [income gap] is changing now," said Mr. Mutua. "We are setting up structures and processes for distribution of money to each constituency because we believe that people have to be developed from the villages up, not just from the cities."

A report, compiled by the Rome-based Society for International Development (SID) and released earlier this week says Kenya's income gap between the haves and have-nots is among the world's widest. The richest 10 percent, of Kenya's population, it says, earn 42 percent of the country's wealth. The poorest 10 percent earn less than one percent of the income. The report also found wide regional difference in wealth.

The society says it is hoping the findings with help launch a national debate on poverty and inequality in Kenya.

Besides Kenya, the report names Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Swaziland, Brazil, and Nicaragua among the countries with the most unequal distribution of income.