By Ooko Victor
Kenya was ranked position 139 out of a total 168 states in the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International. The CPI tool has been used to rank countries based on perceived levels of corruption elicited by opinion surveys and expert assessments.The latest rankings put Kenya 29 places above, Somalia, perceived to be the most corrupt nation in the world. A more recent report released by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) however paints a different picture altogether. According to PwC, the rate of economic crimes in Kenya is 25% above the global average! For this stellar thieving performance, Kenya secured its place in the medal standings as the 3rd most corrupt country in the world.Asset misappropriation, bribery, and procurement fraud have been on a steady rise in Kenya from 54% in 2014 to 61% in 2015. In fact, Kenya is estimated to be losing approximately KES600 BILLION equivalent to 8% of the GDP. To sum this up, one of the leading anti-corruption crusader in Kenya Mr. John Githongo labeled the current Kenyan Government as the most corrupt in this nation’s history.
This sad state of affairs begs the question, is Kenya genuine about its fight against corruption? Or is all this rhetoric about waging war against corruption another convenient government gimmick for political mileage with little being done to actually clamp down on the vice?
History of Anti-Graft Bodies
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission(EACC) is the body tasked with the investigation of corruption allegations against individuals and organizations and recommending legal action where necessary to the Director of Public Prosecutions(DPP). However, the history of the fight against corruption in Kenya lends little credence to EACC or other anti-graft agencies that came before it in as far as independently effecting their mandate is concerned. The first agency constituted in the fight against graft was the Anti-Corruption Squad, a unit withing the Police Department constituted in 1993. The squad was however disbanded in 1995 before it could register any meaningful gains. In early 1997, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority was created and former Kilome MP, Mr. John Harun Mwau appointed its first Director in December of the same year.
Mwau would only serve 6 months in office before he was hounded out of office in 1998 and replaced with Justice Aaron Ringera in 1999. However, the High Court in December 2000 found the existence of the KACC unconstitutional and this followed its immediate disbandment. In August 2001, following an executive order, the Anti-Corruption Police Unit (ACPU) was created under the Criminal Investigation Department of the Kenya Police to fill the void left by the scrapping of KACC. ACPU would go on to operate until the creation of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) in May 2003.
Justice Ringera was reappointed as the Director and served in that capacity until his
resignation in July 2009 following pressure from Parliament. Prof. PLO Lumumba was then appointed Director of KACC in September of 2010 serving for a year before the establishment EACC in September of 2012, under the new constitutional dispensation. Mr. Mumo Matemu was appointed as the first Chairman of the new anti-graft body and Mr. Halakhe Waqo as its Secretary and Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Matemu would resign in 2015 and be replaced by Mr. Philip Kinisu in January 2016 who would go on to serve less than 6 months in office. This is the metamorphosis of a troubled institution that reflects upon the lack of political will to fight corruption.
The fight against corruption reeks of political insincerity on the part of government and politicians alike. Mr. Mwau recently received adverse mentions in relation to the international drug trafficking racket, yet he once served as the head of an institution charged with prescribing ethical codes of conduct and the investigation of unethical practices in Kenya. Mr. Kinisu, on the other hand, was able to assume office despite pending questions over his involvement as a Board Member of his family Company, Esaki Ltd in the National Youth Service scandal involving loss of billions of shillings of public funds.
Today, Kenya is far worse into corruption than we probably were 10 or 20 years ago. According to the PwC report, Bribery and Corruption were reported at 47% as compared to 23% and 27% in the 2012 and 2014 surveys respectively. This increase could be catastrophic to economic growth and fair market competition. The rate at which state officials are fleecing national coffers is at an all time high. Several public institutions have suffered the brunt of corrupt dealings set to benefit a few at the expense of the general public. In 2015, Kenya experienced arguably the largest examination leakage scam in the history of the country! Examination papers were procured and all one needed to do to revise for examinations was to sit tight and watch the actual question paper in the full glare of the media! The former retail giants, Uchumi Supermarket, on the other hand, is facing another collapse with several of its officials charged with misappropriation of its cash and assets. Staff previously fired from the retail chain are alleged to have formed companies that currently supply the supermarket with products at inflated prices, rendering the supermarket unable to compete in the saturated retail stores market. A recent financial audit on the national carrier Kenya Airways on the other hand also revealed a scheme by several managers, lenders, and suppliers to defraud the company. Senior officials have been named as having diverted large chunks of money to the Dubai Bank(now under Receivership) thus starving the airline of necessary funds to effectively undertake its operations. Not even the body charged with overseeing Kenya’s involvement in Olympics has been spared the corrupt practices! Aside from the doping-related bribery allegations against a top official of the National Olympic Committee(NOC), athletes complained over missing kits despite the kit sponsors Nike categorical insistence on having provided sufficient kits for the athletes and their coaches. NOC officials also carried with them family members to Rio at the expense of Coaches for the selected athletes. There was also allegations over accommodation arrangements with some Kenyan athletes having been locked out of the Olympic Village due to late arrival. Then there is the land issue that involves politicians grabbing public land for personal gain. The Deputy President, for instance, had lost a court case and was ordered to pay KES 5million after he was found to have grabbed land from a private citizen, Mr. Gilbert Muteshi.
In addition to these public institutions, there is speculation concerning the utilization of the Eurobond proceeds with the government unable to satisfactorily account for close to $1.2 Billion(KES 120Billion) . The actual amount lost to the National Youth Service scam is also emerging to be around KES 2 Billion. Various other scandals continue to haunt Kenya, chief among them the Anglo Leasing Scandal and the Triton Scandal involving the Kenya Pipeline Company. In his dossier released to the public addressed to the former President Mwai Kibaki, Mr. Githongo while serving as the Permanent Secretary for Governance and Ethics, provided a chronological account of his investigations into the Anglo Leasing scam, mentioning top government officials including the current Senator for Meru, Hon. Kiraitu Muriungi and former Vice President Moody Awori. Anglo leasing was actually Kenyan Politicians fundraising for the 2007 general elections, a practice that further casts similar doubts on the current utilization of the Eurobond proceeds as borrowing from this long-standing misuse of public funds to maintain governments in power
Is the government really sincere in its fight against corruption? Comparing the Kenyan situation to our Tanzanian neighbors under President Magufuli, the political will to stamp out corruption is apparent. The public faith in government is restored and more and more intolerance to corruption adopted by the people. The result is a more committed and accountable public service and of course, reduced corruption and wastage of public funds. The long-term strategies, however, will involve legislation to ensure the system seals avenues that would enable corrupt practices. Kenya, on the other hand, lacks this political will. The public faith in crucial institutions are low and getting lower. Crimes remain unsolved because police demand kickbacks and brokers continue to infest the system hijacking ordinary citizens out to seek services from government offices dangling the promise of quick and efficient service at a fee. Reporting of such cases by citizens goes hand in hand with the confidence that action will be taken.
How do we get back to a trusted public service?
First, we would need to ensure freedom of the press to enable them to expose corruption without encountering unnecessary bureaucratic red tapes in their pursuit of information or access to government officials. Secondly, the government needs to take advantage of the available media channels to provide readily available data to the public. Several government departments are already implementing this practice but much more could be done to ensure access to this data. When the government is forced to release information as a result of pressure from the Civil Service Organizations or the Opposition, it raises further speculation over a possible cover-up. Third is ensuring zero interference with judicial activities. A truly independent judiciary restores public confidence in the pursuit of justice. Luis Franceschi intones, ” It is not sufficient for the Judiciary to be independent; it is also necessary to appear to be independent.” The general public understands the difference between what the law says and what is actually happening. Fourth, amendments to the Penal Code and the Economic Crimes Laws is also highly necessary to ensure the imposition of stringent sanctions and stiffer penalties to those found guilty of the offense. Restrictions should also be instituted against the use of proceeds from corrupt dealings. This would tame the larger than life perceptions that suspects of economic crime float around further giving credence to the vice. Finally, there is a need to check on the wastage of county government funds. The Members of the County Assembly are almost becoming the main consumers of County funds with unwarranted travels and seminars that add no value to their constituents.
The Kenyan government needs to move beyond the numerous policy formulations and reign down on real culprits at the top of the chain. The fight against corruptions is impeccable on paper yet so empty in practice. The fight against corruption should be a movement and Kenyans need to believe. None of this, however, will be achieved without the government leading the way in breeding intolerance towards the vice and persons mentioned in relation to graft. The ultimate decision is made by the electorate on the ballot.
The writer is a Research Consultant with Savic Consultants in Nairobi, Kenya.