Kenya's graft woes set to dog the new year

As 2006 comes to a close, concerns over Kenya’s track record in tackling corruption are deepening in the East African nation. Authorities have consistently said they are committed to the fight against graft, but civil society organisations argue that various developments indicate a lack of political will to root out corruption.

In particular, these groups have taken issue with the recent reappointment of ministers who left the Cabinet earlier this year after they were implicated in two graft scandals.

The resignation of David Mwiraria as finance minister and Kiraitu Murungi as minister of justice came amid public pressure for the men to step down to allow for investigations of their alleged roles in the Anglo Leasing scam. George Saitoti also resigned as education minister because of his reported links to the Goldenberg scandal.

However, President Mwai Kibaki reinstated two of the men about a month ago. Saitoti returned to the Education Ministry, while Murungi became Minister of Energy. This speaks volumes about the government’s real intentions in the war on corruption, says Morris Odhiambo, executive director of the Centre for Law and Research International.

“This is the biggest indicator that the government is deceiving the public. There is no war on corruption going on. In short, there is nothing to show that the government is serious about fighting corruption,” he says. The centre, based in the capital of Nairobi, lobbies for human rights, democracy and good governance.

Scandal

A recent study by the Kenya branch of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International asserts that the country loses $1,2-billion yearly to graft.

The Goldenberg scandal took place in the early 1990s while Daniel arap Moi was in power. It resulted in the loss to the government of about $600-million through fictitious gold and diamond exports. Key officials such as Arap Moi and several of his ministers, including Saitoti, were implicated in the scandal—described as the biggest yet in Kenya.

To date, no one has been prosecuted in connection with the matter, even though it has been investigated by a commission at a cost of more than $7-million of taxpayers’ money. The commission, appointed in 2003, presented its report to the government earlier this year.

The Anglo Leasing scandal was unearthed in 2004, and concerned dubious, multimillion-dollar contracts for supplying Kenya with a system to produce tamper-proof passports, and for building police forensic laboratories. The deals involved Anglo Leasing and Finance—a fictitious company.

Some of the money paid out in connection with this scam has been wired back to Kenya. However, authorities have failed to come clean about the names of persons responsible for the funds transfer, as demanded by rights campaigners.

“The public needs to know the truth because it is taxpayers’ money we are talking about here,” says Odhiambo.

In addition to Mwiraria and Murungi, other high-ranking officials implicated in the Anglo Leasing scandal include Vice-President Moody Awori, who defied public pressure to vacate his post.

Githongo

But in a development some may view as ironic, John Githongo, the former permanent secretary for ethics and governance, did leave his job in connection with the scandal.

Githongo had compiled a list of persons who allegedly took part in the Anglo Leasing scam as part of his work on advising Kibaki about curbing corruption. He maintains that the president was kept aware of developments related to Anglo Leasing, but did not take action.

Githongo eventually resigned in 2005, claiming that influential members of the government were frustrating his efforts to fight graft. He now lives in Britain.

Officials from the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission travelled to London earlier this year to question Githongo on tape about his findings. However, the officials later claimed that the recorder used had proved faulty, and that all the information they gathered had been erased—a development viewed by some as an effort to stifle investigations into Anglo Leasing.

Certain anti-graft campaigners argue that legislation in Kenya is inadequate to the task of fighting corruption.

They point, for instance, to the wealth-declaration requirement contained in the Public Officer Ethics Act of 2003, which stipulates that public officials from the president to civil service messengers declare their income, assets and liabilities—as well as those of their spouses and dependants.

The requirement is intended to check the looting of public resources. However, the Act also allows for wealth declarations to remain confidential—this despite claims that public access to such declarations is central to promoting a culture of accountability.

“We have said, ‘Let us open up this declaration,’ but nothing has happened. The blame lies squarely on the entire Parliament for passing such a flawed law, and the executive for assenting to it,” says Odhiambo. “They created the loopholes in the law so that they are not accountable to anyone.”

In 2004, Robinson Githae, then assistant justice assistant, told Inter Press Service that the government was “pursuing the best approach to this issue according to the public interest, and we are soon coming up with a solution”. Two years on, the status quo remains.—IPS

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