As revelations about a multimillion-dollar scam involving the Anglo Leasing and Finance company riveted public attention in Kenya , a report about investigations into the country’s biggest corruption scandal to date was gathering dust in an office at State House.
Were the government to take action over the report, however, the consequences could reverberate throughout the East African country — and perhaps even enable anti-graft campaigners to claim their biggest prize yet: former president Daniel arap Moi. This past week saw the resignation of finance minister David Mwiraria in connection with the Anglo Leasing saga; he is the first Cabinet minister to step down over allegations of corruption.
Kenya’s most important scam to date took its name from Goldenberg International, a company set up by local businessman Kamlesh Pattni, who allegedly colluded with former and current officials to claim money for fictitious exports of gold and diamonds.
This was done in the early 1990s, under the auspices of an export compensation scheme set up to replenish Kenya’s foreign-exchange reserves. These had dissipated after donors suspended aid to the East African country to protest against the autocratic rule of Moi.
Upwards of $600-million are said to have been looted from government coffers in the course of what came to be known as the ”Goldenberg affair”; this alleged theft was one of the factors that prompted the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to suspend several million dollars of aid to Kenya in 1997.
President Mwai Kibaki won office at the end of 2002 with a promise to eradicate the corruption that had characterised Moi’s rule — and set up the Goldenberg Commission of Inquiry as evidence of his desire to confront graft.
The two-year inquiry into the Goldenberg affair ended in February last year. By September, the three-member commission, led by Justice Samuel Bosire, had presented a report to Kibaki with recommendations about how to proceed in the matter.
During the hearings, Pattni named Moi as one of the chief planners of the fraud. The businessman also claimed he had delivered suitcases full of cash to the former president to get the go-ahead for the scheme.
The former president refused to testify before the Goldenberg commission in person, however, providing it instead with a written statement in which he dismissed Pattni’s allegations as ”ridiculous”. It was a version of events that the commissioners did not subscribe to, even though they were sceptical of Pattni’s claims.
”We doubt whether the former president, as the chief executive officer of the country, was completely unaware [of events surrounding Goldenberg],” they write in their dossier, excerpts of which were obtained by Inter Press Service.
”Yet the impression created [by Moi] is that the former president had no idea at all about all this. To establish the extent of his involvement, more investigations would be necessary,” the commissioners add.
The document also implicates Kenya’s present Education Minister and former vice-president under Moi, George Saitoti, saying he approved ”irregular payments” to Pattni’s company.
Legal sources who have seen the complete report say it recommends ”further investigation and possible prosecution” of more than 70 people in all, most of them former government officials and businessmen who were close to Moi.
While Assistant Minister of Justice Robinson Githae has promised that the government ”will implement the recommendations of the commission in total and the culprits will face the full force of the law”, officials have yet to make a decisive move in this regard.
They are obliged to wait for the official release of the report, a date for which must still be made known.
There have been concerns that Moi’s supporters may react angrily to efforts at bringing him to book — and a reluctance in certain quarters to confront a leader who chose to leave office peacefully, even after more than two decades of sometimes turbulent rule.
Nonetheless, faced with growing donor discontent about the apparent mismanagement of public finances in Kenya, Kibaki is under pressure to act against both past and present-day graft. The World Bank announced this week that it was delaying payment of loans worth almost $270-million to the country until Nairobi demonstrated sufficient commitment in the fight against corruption.
A report by former permanent secretary for governance and ethics John Githongo that became public earlier this month has thrown new light on the more recent Anglo Leasing scandal, linking serving and former members of Kibaki’s government to fraudulent deals worth an estimated $700-million.
Contracts were awarded to the fictitious Anglo Leasing and Finance for the provision of a secure passport system, as well as the construction of forensic laboratories for police.
Question marks are also hanging over the procurement of naval ships, and a computer system for the police.
Githongo has been based in Britain since February last year, after receiving a warning — allegedly from a Cabinet minister — that his life was in danger because of investigations into official graft.
In his report, the former permanent secretary reveals that Cabinet ministers asked him to ”leave certain people alone” because of their good relations with and support of Kibaki. He also describes how an unnamed minister entered his office, emphasising that ”if we went after [corrupt individuals] our government would fall”.
Githongo’s dossier points a finger at high-ranking government officials other than Mwiraria, notably Vice-President Moody Awori, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi and former transport minister Chris Murungaru.
”Corruption slumbered for a few months after Kibaki took office, but it was resurrected soon afterwards,” says Tom Ojienda, chairperson of Kenya’s Law Society. — IPS