Justice Aaron Ringera on Wednesday resigned as the head of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (Kacc), bringing to a close a month-long battle between Parliament and the President over his reappointment.
Mr Ringera announced his resignation and that of his deputy, Fatuma Sichale, to end what had snowballed into a national crisis that had threatened to stall government operations in the coming months.
President Kibaki kicked up the storm with his unilateral decision to reappoint the three Kacc directors, Justice Ringera and his two deputies, saying the law was silent on the matter.
But the corruption watchdog’s board, backed by Parliament, argued that the President had no powers to make the appointments without their involvement. The disagreement saw Parliament annul a gazette notice on the appointments, leaving the officials in an unknown legal territory that only the courts were expected to clarify.
One of the appointees, Dr Smokin Wanjala, threw in the towel two weeks ago leaving Justice Ringera and Ms Sichale at the centre of the controversy.
Though yesterday’s resignations are expected to bring the controversy to a close, analysts reckoned that it had eroded public confidence in the institution as politicians tore into each other over the appointments and analysts poked holes into the efficiency of KACC over the last five years it has been in existence.
It leaves in its wake institutional weaknesses that must now be addressed if the agency is to effectively fight corruption that has tainted the country’s image as an investment destination.Justice Ringera –– who said he had resigned to save the institution from disbandment following soaring public pressure –– outlined a raft of measures he believed could boost the fight against corruption.
“If the commission was to fail due to disbandment, you could have as well kissed goodbye the fight against corruption forever,” he said.
“We urgently need to review and enhance the anti-corruption machinery which is currently weak otherwise there will be no prospects of unravelling corruption cases like the Anglo Leasing scandal.”
Kacc has no prosecutorial powers, and critics argue that prosecutors under the AG’s office are part of a government cadre and therefore unlikely to fight corruption. Justice Ringera announced that Dr John Mutonyi, who is the assistant director in charge of investigations and Asset Tracing, had taken over his position in an acting capacity.
He urged Parliament to overhaul anti-corruption laws to give Kacc more teeth to fight graft. “We need laws that guarantee Mutual Legal Assistance to facilitate international investigation,”he said.
On Wednesday, politicians, business leaders and anti-corruption crusaders said the fight against graft was at a crossroads in the country, due to what they termed a faltering commitment and a weak anti-corruption machinery.
They argued Kenya’s economic prospects were being eroded by an unfettered continuation of official corruption, adding the war was on the brink of collapse as anti-corruption watchdog institutions passed the buck over laxity in investigations and prosecutions.
“We must clean up the anti-corruption machinery or we can as well forget the fight against corruption,” said Job Ogonda, the executive director at Transparency International Kenya Chapter.
“Much as we blame Kacc for the failure to fight corruption, the problem is fundamentally based on the lack of political will,” said Mr Ogonda.
Even before the truth about the Anglo Leasing scandal is known, new corruption scandals have emerged over the last one year involving oil and maize in what has dented the image of the Grand Coalition Government.
Even as he exited, Justice Ringera defended KACC’s slow progress in the fight against corruption, blaming others — more so the Judiciary — for frustrating his efforts.
“We have given the fight our all, we could possibly not have done better,” said Justice Ringera.
“Instead of being accused of being inefficient, it is better to confer prosecutorial powers to KACC and reform the judicial system then judge it on this basis,” he said.
Analysts argue the measure of success of Kenya’s anti-corruption machinery is bound to be judged on one data point —the return on investment that the taxpayers get in terms of amounts of public money acquired through corruption that was recovered, the number of high profile convictions and the deterrence force of the institution in fighting corruption.
This return would be compared to what other countries which have had similar experiences of topping the global charts on corruption and have fought economic crimes aggressively.
“The performance of Kacc is so far dismal and the perception is that it’s a waste of public resources,” said Mr Tiberius Barasa, a political analyst at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR).
“The fact is that the war on graft will never be won in this country given that it seems mega scandals like Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg have never been unravelled.”
Since Kacc was established six years ago, taxpayers have spent nearly Sh8 billion in the war against corruption.
The latest Kacc report indicates that the anti-corruption body handled cases involving close to Sh100 billion in 2008 — signaling a surge in economic crimes despite the billions of shillings spent on fighting it every year.
Kacc says at least Sh8 billion has either been recovered as assets or flawed contracts stopped after being detected.
Kacc gets a sizeable slice of the annual government budget that stands at Sh1.3 billion in the current year. However, at this rate of delivery, analysts said, it would take 25 years to recover the sum dragged out of the economy through corruption.
“We must fix corruption and political instability for investors to have confidence in this economy,” said Mr George Waititu, the managing director at research firm Synovate in a previous interview.