Economy under threat as government loses fight against corruption

Lawyer Patrick Lumumba was short-listed to head the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission based at Integrity Centre in Nairobi. The anti-graft body has not won any convictions against suspected corruption perpetrators despite its decade-long existence. Photo/FILE
Lawyer Patrick Lumumba was short-listed to head the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission based at Integrity Centre in Nairobi. The anti-graft body has not won any convictions against suspected corruption perpetrators despite its decade-long existence. Photo/FILE 

The recent emergence of mega scandals in government has further tainted Kenya’s credentials in the international community, annoying donors, some of whom have suspended aid.

While the multi-billion shilling scandals have left the government sharply divided and swept away over a dozen senior civil servants, they have also overshadowed the search for a new head at the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC).

Now, anti-corruption activists and business leaders are cautioning that the resurgence could further hurt the already fragile business environment at a time when the economy is struggling to take the path of recovery.

Officials of the KACC and analysts are seeking answers as to why graft is once again rearing its ugly head in government.

“Corruption is a permanent thing, it never disappeared in the first place” says Mr Wilson Shollei, a deputy director at the anti-graft body.

Mr Shollei’s comments go a long way to demonstrate how graft continues to live within government offices and in the private sector despite several attempts by the state to fight it.

Transparency International’s latest corruption perception index ranks Kenya the third most corrupt country in Africa and the 30th most corrupt state in the world.

New scandals involving the private sector and government players that threaten to derail Kenya’s fight against graft include the recent purchase of additional land in Athi River by City Council of Nairobi’s for the purposes of a cemetery.

The price of the land was Sh24 million but the Council is said to have colluded with several middlemen and business people to inflate this by Sh253 million.

This scandal came hot on the heels of another in free primary education where Education ministry officials embezzled Sh1.7 billion meant for text books.

The British government which is the main donor, suspended all financial engagements with the government until the matter is investigated and the lost cash recovered.

On Tuesday, Britain announced it was withdrawing from government hands Sh2.3 billion meant for free learning and turning to NGOs for the disbursement of the money directly to schools.

As Parliament prepares to vet Nairobi lawyer PLO Lumumba, who has been short-listed to head KACC, new graft cases have emerged that are likely to make his work even more difficult.

He will be replacing Justice Aaron Ringera who resigned last year under pressure from MPs and the civil society who accused President Kibaki of bypassing Parliament to appoint him the head of KACC.

But has all the legislative and policy bodies produced any tangible results in the war against graft?

“The general feeling is that the government has lost the fight against corruption” says Mr William Cheptumo, the Assistant minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs “It’s the responsibility of the entire country including the private sector to fight corruption”.

However, KACC mandarins disagree, arguing that they have managed to prevent the loss of Sh5 billion annually through corruption.

“Through investigations and prosecutions we have managed to deter about 500 possible corruption cases annually. We have recovered grabbed access roads, beach plots and public utility plots that would have cost the country Sh5 billion annually,” says a report — Status of Anti Corruption Efforts in Kenya, presented at an anti-corruption forum in Nairobi last week.

Analysts say the drive for quick profits by the private sector has also given birth to mega-corruption scandals in the government as some unscrupulous business people induce contract awards by influencing civil servants.

Mr Vimal Shah, who heads the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, an umbrella organization of local manufacturers and private business organizations says civil servants alone cannot create corruption.

The private sector must also share the blame for increasing corruption in government.

“We cannot escape the blame. The private sector too must play a key role in fighting corruption” Mr Shah told a conference organized by the private sector in Nairobi to talk about corruption.

A damning report by global anti corruption watchdog Transparency International in 2009 said the private sector in Kenya paid bribes to influence public policy, laws and regulations.

Transparency International’s 2009 Global Corruption Barometer sent a powerful signal to the private sector to prove that they are running clean businesses but some analysts say weak regulations governing businesses in Kenya are the cause of corruption in the private sector.

On the cemetery saga, President Kibaki has already suspended 12 officials of the ministry of local government and KACC has launched investigations to determine if local government’s minister and Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi was culpable.

The FPE scandal saw Prof Karega Mutahi suspended as education ministry PS alongside several other officials.

“It is well beyond the scope of Kenyan taxpayers to put right our grossly under-funded, under-equipped, and under-established education sector without donor support. Hence, it is not acceptable that donors are withdrawing their critical financial support from our critically ill education sector simply because President Kibaki has refused to crack the whip on corrupt individuals” say civil society groups comprising the Centre for Law and Research International and Social Reform Centre.

The civil society is well aware that consumers of government service including school going children are the main victims of increased corruption at various government departments.

“Kenya’s education sector has suffered gross negligence and abuse and is critically ill. As a country, we need every cent we can get from wherever before we even begin to adequately address the huge challenges education faces in Kenya,” they say.

Education sector

But the happenings at the education sector are not the only scandals dogging the government.

The Agriculture ministry is also under the spotlight over the selling of subsidized maize to private millers.

President Kibaki suspended top officials of that ministry to pave way for investigations.

These are but a few of the recent scandals that have emerged to deal a body blow to the government’s effort to eradicate graft in its ranks.

Lands PS Dorothy Angote says some civil servants are giving the government a bad name.

Recently, the PS and a team of senior officials raided several offices at Ardhi House in which about 12,000 files that were presumed to be missing were recovered.

The whereabouts of 30,000 other files containing crucial details on land are yet to be established.

“This Ministry is in a serious crisis of confidence” Ms Angote told the civil servants and warned that the era of public servants assuming they were indispensable is over.

KACC believes that politicians and seniors civil servants have trained their eyes on the 2012 general elections and that has triggered graft which is precipitating the scandals.

“We are losing the momentum in the fight against corruption because of the 2012 general elections. Some politicians and civil servants are busy signing away contracts now in the belief that it will give them money for the campaigns,” says Mr Shollei.

Even though there is no concrete data over corruption in Kenya, KACC believes that over 30,000 cases of graft have been reported over the last five years but there could be nearly a million cases of corruption that occur annually with most going unreported.

What is pushing down the in the fight against corruption, points analysts is the will to prosecute corrupt individuals and to forcibly recover funds that have been embezzled by civil servants, all of whom operate in disregard to the Public Officers Ethics Act.

The recent corruption scandals that have wiped out billions of shillings of tax payers’ money have exposed the weaknesses of the oversight institutions and put to question the existence of KACC and the National Anti Corruption Campaign Steering Committee which enjoy a cumulative allocation averaging Sh1.4 billion every year.

Over the years, the government has instituted several legal interventions aimed at tackling graft, but most analysts say these efforts have come failed as Kenya continues to sink deeper into vice.

Some of the legislated interventions put up by government in the belief that it would enhance the country’s moral standing include the establishment of the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1956, the establishment of the Anti- Corruption Police Squad in 1997, the establishment of the Kenya Anti- Corruption Authority in 1999 and the establishment of the Anti-corruption Police Unit in the 1990s.

Legal backing

More interventions that carry legal backing include the passing of the Anti- Corruption and Economic Crimes Act by Parliament in 2003 and the Public Officer Ethics Act-2003.

The Government Financial Management Act of 2004, the Public Procurement and Disposal Act of 2005, the Witness Protection Act of 2007 and the Proceeds of Crimes and Anti- Money Laundering Act of 2009 complete the list of the government’s legislative initiatives to fight graft.

Cabinet committee

Administrative actions include the cabinet committee on corruption, the National Anti- Corruption Plan, the National Anti- Corruption Steering Committee and the Public Complaints Standing Committee or the office of the Ombudsman.

These are bodies established through government policy and intended to fighting corruption.

The government established the National Anti Corruption Campaign Steering Committee in 2004 to lead the fight against graft by way of creating awareness and educating Kenyans on how to eliminate graft.

It was intended at complementing the work of KACC.