Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Why Kenya’s fight against corruption is morally corrupt

President Kenyatta took an unprecedented step in Kenya during his State of the Nation address at Parliament Buildings on March 26 when he tabled a list of corrupt individuals before the house. The controversial dossier - compiled by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) - lists 175 individuals under investigation for engaging in unethical and corrupt dealings. The list includes Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, Governors, Senators, Members of Parliament, Members of County Assemblies, members of constitutional commissions, among others. The list only helped provide a confirmation of what Kenyans already knew – that corruption continues unabated at almost all levels of our governance structure.

Corruption in Kenya is a cancer that eats into the very fabric that should hold our society together and help us progress. It has reached alarming heights, if the volume and frequency of scandals in the recent past are anything to go by. Hard-working Kenyans are overtaxed on the basis that these taxes would be used to push for a people-centered developmental agenda thus improve their welfare. But is this the case? Kenya is said to lose around a third of its revenue to graft. The greedy economic and political elite line their pockets with taxes, while the masses wallow in poverty due to continued deprivation of quality healthcare, education, adequate food, housing and opportunities for self-advancement.


We seem to have turned theft of public funds into a national sport, with various individuals and institutions competing for the gold medal. 2015 has brought to light the extent of the rot given the litany of corruption allegations levelled against parliamentary committees, constitutional commissions, cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking government apparatchiks. The Public Accounts Committee, a parliamentary watchdog on public expenditure, has been dogged in controversy over the last few weeks. There have been allegations that some members may have received bribes to frustrate investigations touching on the executive and its corrupt dealings. Its Chairman, Ababu Namwamba, has temporarily taken leave of parliamentary duties awaiting the outcome of investigations.

The Auditor General’s Office audits all government accounts and expenditure. Surprising enough is the fact that the Auditor General is himself on the list – accused of defrauding the World Bank! 

The author of the list - the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission - has continued to treat Kenyans to theatrics of unparalleled proportions, with boardroom wars pitting its Chairman, Mumo Matemu, against its Chief Executive Officer, Halakhe Waqo. The infighting is believed to be happening at the behest of powerful individuals within and without government – and is believed to be part of a wider scheme to derail the war on corruption. A commissioner, Prof. Jane Onsongo, resigned from the commission on Tuesday saying the boardroom wars had effectively incapacitated the commission, making it unable to fight graft. That is the state of the commission supposed to investigate the accused!

The public first got to know of the existence of this list during Uhuru’s State of the Nation address. His actions –exposing those under investigation – may be a step in the right direction. We must however give cognisance to the fact that the list is not exhaustive. We must recognize that some sacred cows in government are not included in it.  Five Cabinet secretaries have stepped aside within the last one week to pave way for investigations. They are Felix Koskei (Agriculture), Michael Kamau (Infrustructure and roads), Kazungu Kambi (Labour), Davis Chirchir (Energy) and Charity Ngilu (Lands), not forgetting the Secretary to the Cabinet, Francis Kimemia. Governors on the list say they will not step-aside because they are elected individuals, and can only be removed from office through procedures laid out in the constitution. That can only be referred to as impunity.


Some say the tree of corruption in Kenya was planted by Jomo Kenyatta, watered by Moi, looked after by Kibaki and its fruits harvested by the government of Uhuru Kenyatta. Uhuru has more than one option on how to deal with this tree – he can choose to either cut it or prune it.  Cutting the tree involves prosecuting those involved in graft. Stepping aside is not enough. Kenya needs to step up its war on corruption. The only means of restoring public confidence in the fight against corruption is the sacking and successful prosecution of high-level suspects. Pruning the tree, which we are quite familiar with, involves stepping-aside, followed by a few months of shoddy investigations, and punctuated by reinstatement of individuals to their previous positions. It only serves to perpetuate the cycle of corruption. Uhuru’s current actions, while commendable, may be equivalent to pruning the tree of corruption – removing a few branches to increase future productivity. Time will tell. Only time will tell.

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