Senate mulls banning civil servants from doing business with govt

MPs in Parliament. The lawmakers are defending
MPs in Parliament. The lawmakers are defending themselves in a suit filed by two civil society organisations that have sued Parliament over a law giving them authority to manage CDF money. File 

Civil servants who have formed companies purposely to do business with national and county governments will find themselves behind bars and blocked from holding public office if parliament adopts proposed changes to the law.

While discussing a petition tabled before them that seeks to address conflict of interest within the public service, Senators on Wednesday said that public servants doing business with government are to blame for runaway corruption.

“We don’t want to criminalise business but conflict of interest must be looked at. Even politicians are using their influence to run for public office to unfairly secure business,” Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula said.

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale blamed the Ndegwa commission report of the 1970s that allowed public officers to do business with government for the widening gap between the rich and poor.

The report paved way for civil servants to take advantage of their close proximity to senior government officials to amass wealth while still on the government payroll.

“This must change if we were to have a country where all Kenyans can lead a better life as opposed to few rich people as the expense of the majority,” Dr Khalwale said.

"Existing laws not adequate"

The petition was tabled by a private citizen, Tony Watima, who wants parliamentarians to enact a law barring public officers from conducting any commercial activity with the State.

“There have been numerous incidences in Kenya where public officers make decisions on matters in which they, either directly or indirectly, have a personal interest,” the petition by Mr Watima reads.

The existing laws, he said, have not adequately addressed this challenge, resulting in increased cases of graft at both levels of government.

He said enacting such a law would allow public officers to freely make government decisions based on public interest without undue influence from their own personal interests.

“There is a pattern of unchallenged abuse of power by both appointed and elected public officers taking official action or making policy recommendations in areas where they are investors or have personal interests,” Mr Watima noted.

Mr Wetangula said junior officers at both national and county government have amassed wealth way above their annual incomes within a short while through dishonest means.

Nominated Senator Judith Sijeny echoed the sentiment, saying corruption had risen to worrying levels and that unless the situation was addressed, there would be less funds in circulation.

“Kenya was not known for corruption as it is the case now. People in the civil service are supposed to protect public funds. Unfortunately, they are the ones who want to acquire funds by all means,” she said.

"Barred from public office"

Tana River Senator Ali Bure said corrupt Kenyans should be barred from seeking public office to serve as a deterrent against those who illegally acquire wealth to lure voters.

The petition recommends that the Commission on Administrative Justice (office of the Ombudsman) be entrusted with the mandate to ensure compliance.

“Officers who fail to adhere to the guidelines should be sacked and a gazette notice issued by the Ombudsman,” the petition reads.

If enacted, any public officer found to have declared insufficient or misleading information will be blacklisted and blocked from holding any public office besides being liable for a criminal charge.

In what appears to be more radical measures, the petition also seeks to give the public right of access to information on asset declarations made by public officers.

Mr Watima wants the office of the Ombudsman to make the information available for public scrutiny within a month of declaration.

Senate's Legal Affairs committee, chaired by former Attorney General Amos Wako, has 60 days to deliberate the matter and report back to the Upper House.