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Graduate to credible anti-graft purge

Times Towers
Times Towers, KRA headquarters in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Let us wait to see whether the high-profile anti-corruption purge and arrests of employees of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) will produce evidence capable of sustaining convictions in courts of law.

Several months ago, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations mounted similar high profile investigations on the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), leading to the arrests and arraignment of managers of the State agency and local staff of the Moroccan fertiliser manufacturing company OCP Ltd.

What made this high profile investigation even more sensational was the fact that the individuals were charged with murder.

The allegations were that top officials of this State agency, including the CEO, had colluded with the Moroccans to allow fertiliser laced with mercury into the country, thus exposing consumers to sickness, even death.

The other day, the Moroccan company was exonerated by the courts and allowed to release 65,000 bags of fertiliser that had been detained for nearly one year to the market.

The prosecution authorities were forced to eat the humble pie because their narrative about the fertilier being laced with mercury fell flat on its face.

What had been billed as a major scoop for the on-going anti-corruption crusade led by the head of the DCI, George Kinoti, and Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji turned out to be fake.

The pressure to deliver will be high because the KRA purge has come against the backdrop of growing public scepticism about the ongoing anti-corruption crusade, especially because of what is widely perceived as a slackening of speed and pace by Mr Kinoti and Mr Hajji in prosecuting cases surrounding the dam scandals.

By any yardstick, the KRA investigations represent the biggest anti-corruption purge on a State corporation in years.

More than 70 middle-level officers have been nabbed, accused of varied allegations, including issuance of fake tax compliance certificates, colluding with importers to under-assess customs duties and manipulating computer data to aid tax evasion.

And, entrenched bureaucratic corruption is not only tenacious, but tends to generate a kind of equilibrium.

What is happening at the KRA is not just about individuals or a cadre of particular officials, but about an environment where too many officers were engaged in freelance rent-seeking.

Unscrupulous taxpayers had managed to create a network of operatives sharing not only rewards but also risks, a tight-knit group with high stakes not only in hiding corruption but also in freezing out critics.

When corruption is rampant as it appears to be the case at the KRA, deciding on who to nab may require investigators to navigate carefully to stem claims of unfairness and targeting of individuals on ethnic or political grounds.

The investigations must be seen to have integrity and purity of motive. This is especially so because the purge on the KRA is happening at a time when the organisation is going through a major transition.
John Njiraini, the chief executive, is leaving. And, several top members of the executive committee have left or will be leaving shortly.

And all these events are happening on the backdrop of heavy political undercurrents.

To appreciate how influential political players are keen on driving the Njiraini succession, you have to look at the manner in which State House reacted in May last year when the former board decided to get Njiraini to proceed on terminal leave.

In a rare display of power by the political forces who wanted him to stay, President Uhuru Kenyatta hurriedly issued a special gazette notice replacing the whole board, including chairman Edward Sambili, who was replaced by former Public Service head Francis Muthaura.

There are reports that Mr Njiraini had been called back to preside over the anti-graft purge.

Independent anti-graft agencies only succeed if they represent a long-term commitment, not to be misused for political ends.

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