The venue is Lunga Lunga Secondary School. A horde of people stream into the football field. If you are a visitor at this border town, you will not tell the social status of the people gathering here. Save for the children, nothing betrays their status. This crowd comprises of civil servants working in the area, among them KRA staff, police officers, health officials, officials from other government agencies and members of the public.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Customs officials have intercepted an illegal consignment and members of the multi-agency team are here to enforce the law. Yet still, there is no baraza or a political rally going on. However, on a keener look, you would easily isolate a group from the crowd. There are some individuals in sports uniform. These are members of the Veterans Football Club. This is not your ordinary football club, as it comprises of civil servants and members of the public. Today a training session is underway.
During the football matches and training sessions, police, KRA officers, county government workers, health officials and members of the public interact freely. This has created a strong bond among them, greatly improving the relationship between the government and the public. This relationship has reduced criminal activities in the area and encouraged residents to cooperate with the government in enforcing the law. Smuggling and other cross-border crimes around the Lunga Lunga One Stop Border Post(OSBP) are on a downward trend courtesy of the initiative.
The initiative is the brainchild of a KRA officer at the OSBP, who consulted his colleagues and later roped in other government officers. Mr Morris Onyango, a Customs officer, explains what motivated him. “The main reason is that most of the time I went for patrol, it was a hide-and-seek game pursuing the youths who facilitate smuggling. At times, some got involved in accidents while attempting to escape the long arm of the law. Following these incidents, a thought came to my mind after consulting on how to resolve the matter. We realised that it was better for us to engage the youths and discourage them from engaging in the vice instead of using coercion,’’ says Mr Onyango.
“I therefore came up with the idea of establishing a combined football team comprising women, elders and civil servants working in the area, an idea that was embraced by all stakeholders. We have youth, women and men’s football teams.’’ The team manager said that apart from promoting the physical fitness of the participants, the team has availed a forum for government officials and the public to share ideas on how to address issues that affect them. “After the training sessions and matches, we get the opportunity to engage with members of the public and educate them on the law and what they can do to comply. We also encourage the youth to be disciplined and encourage them to work hard in school to improve their lives,’’ Mr Onyango noted.
Club patron Mr Gerald Mutinda, who is the KRA officer in charge of security at the OSBP, said that the initiative has benefited both residents and government officials, which has helped them to achieve their objectives. “The club has encouraged the residents to embrace the law and shun crime. Members of the community report those who take the wrong path to the government. For instance, the locals recently volunteered information about a person who was engaged in smuggling. The lad, who is a boda boda rider, stopped engaging in the illicit trade after the multi-agency team talked to him about the danger of engaging in illicit trade,’’ Mr Mutinda explained.
The civil servants have gone an extra mile to counsel youths involved in narcotic drugs. Additionally, the civil servants have raised funds to assist a number of students whose parents could not afford school fees. “This association between government officials and the locals has improved the communication between KRA and other government officials on one hand, and the community on the other,’’ Station Manager Mr Wycliffe Musili explained. He said that in the past, locals and boda boda riders engaging in illegal business at the border would speed off to avoid our team. “Engaging with the community through the club has given KRA and other government agencies a human face. Local businesspersons have now accepted to comply with the law and most of them are using the official border in their business activities,’’ said Mr Musili.
He noted that the club has given youths interested in professional football a chance to get exposure. Two players recently did trials to join the Premier League through Kariobangi Sharks and Mathare United clubs. Mr Musili urged Ushuru FC to scout for players from Lunga Lunga to encourage the youth and give them hope in life, saying that the club has a good number of players with high potential to excel in football if supported. The civil servants finance the club’s operations from their own pockets. Bomji Collins, a public health officer from the Kwale County Government, said that the club has fostered working relations between state officials and the community, which is the most important pillar in service delivery. “When there is positive interaction between government officials and members of the public, it will be easy for civil servants to understand their culture and their problems, which will help us to serve them better,’’ he says. Mr Collins observes that the club has also created a unique bond between civil servants at the border town, enhancing teamwork among government officials to serve residents.
As our interview with Mr Collins continues, a young woman comes in. Nothing would betray her identity as a police officer. She appears like an ordinary girl in a sleepy village. Ms Diana Akinyi says that the club has enhanced trust between law enforcement officers and the community. “The locals now understand that they share a common goal with government agencies in promoting security,’’ she notes.
Mr Mruche Ali, an officer from the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, says that keeping the youth engaged motivates them to avoid drug abuse and criminal activities. “We are moulding them to become responsible. After every training session and football match, we empower them with knowledge on how they can become good leaders in the future and take their roles in contributing towards the development of the country,’’ Ali says.
Ms Kadi Juma, a secondary school teacher, says that the club has instilled discipline among the youth. Hassan Idi Shuhuli, a former student at Mwereni Primary School and captain of the youth football team, attests to this. “They have nurtured and guided us to uphold integrity and be disciplined. We have no time to idle and this helps us to avoid immoral acts.” Idi passed his KCPE last year, and although his parents may not afford his fees to continue with education, he believes that he will get support through the exposure that the club has accorded him.
A study by scholars Marijn Verhoeven and Wilson Prichard says that strengthening enforcement and facilitation are critical to any tax reform programme. “Yet emerging evidence points to the value of an expanded focus on trust building. Research demonstrates that expanded trust can increase tax morale and voluntary tax compliance. For example, a recent World Bank global survey experiment found substantial improvements in tax morale when democratic accountability is strengthened,’’ they noted in their study.
By Victor Mwasi