President, top officers’ wealth to be made public in IMF push

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Prof Njuguna Ndung’u at a press briefing on November 10, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

The wealth of top state officers--including the President and his deputy—will be made public if Kenya caves in to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to allow disclosure of public servants assets in two proposed laws.

The Brettonwood institution has in the latest review poked holes in Kenya’s draft laws aimed at aligning the asset declaration and conflict of interest legal frameworks with international standards.

The country has completed collecting views from stakeholders and the public on the draft Access to Information Regulations and the draft Conflict of Interest Bill and was set to publish and submit to Parliament by end of this year.

The IMF has, however, flagged inadequacies in the proposed laws, arguing that there are gaps in publicity of the declared assets and lacks models to test the accuracy of the properties.

Parliament has severally failed to approve proposed laws that sought to remove restrictions on Kenyans seeking to access information on income, assets and liabilities of persons holding public office as part of efforts to fight corruption.

The proposed laws required that the self-declared wealth declaration forms be made easily available to the public through a website or in an unrestricted database hosted by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

At present, public officers are expected to declare their wealth every two years, but the information contained in the wealth declaration forms remains confidential and can only be accessed by those in pursuit of public interest.

Now, the IMF wants Parliament to make another attempt at backing the disclosures through to the law.

“Weaknesses remain in the current draft Conflict of Interest Law relating to the underlying system for asset declaration (scope of coverage, publication of asset declaration information, and mechanisms for validating accuracy of submissions), creating a risk that adoption of new regulations in their current form fails to improve accountability and integrity,” the IMF wrote in the report following a review between October 25 and November 8.

Of particular interest will be the wealth of the President and his entire Cabinet, MPs and Senators, top county officials, executives of State-owned firms and other senior civil servants whose role in the theft of billions of shillings in taxpayer money has been flagged in audit reports.

The draft Conflict of Interest Bill was yet to be approved by President William Ruto’s Cabinet to pave the way for its tabling in the National Assembly for debate and approval.

The draft law is seeking to consolidate the wealth and interest declarations of public officials into one uniform disclosure regime, according to the National Treasury. The legal reforms are also aimed at rationalizing the responsibility of analysing and verifying the wealth disclosures and imposing adequate sanctions for false declarations or failure to declare in a single agency.

The bill further proposes to enhance the role, responsibilities and capability of enforcement agencies to investigate, prosecute and sanction perpetrators of illicit enrichment and other corruption offenses.

This is aimed at increasing transparency in the public sector and curbing the practice where influential State employees such as cabinet secretaries and CEOs of state firms enrich themselves through scandals involving bogus tenders and suppliers.

“Government progress in preparing the draft Conflict of Interest Law is noted, but substantial changes are needed in order to align the draft law with principles of good practice, especially relating to asset declarations,” the IMF wrote in the detailed report following approval of Sh55.07 billion ($447.39 million) disbursement to Kenya on December 19 as part of the Sh297.38 billion ($2.416 billion) budget support over 38 months from April 2021.

“[IMF] staff encourages the authorities to act rapidly to introduce necessary modifications regarding collection and publication of asset declarations prior to submission of the draft bill to Parliament.”

A number of top public servants are fighting asset freezes and seizures after investigations revealed secret bank accounts, cars, and apartments that could not match their incomes.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta failed to respond fully to a huge leak of financial papers dubbed the Pandora Papers that showed his family secretly owned a network of offshore companies for decades.

Mr Kenyatta and six members of his family were linked to 13 offshore companies in revelations that were made public in October 2021.

The Kenyattas’ offshore investments, including a company with stocks and bonds worth $30m (Sh3.69 billion), were discovered among hundreds of thousands of pages of administrative paperwork from the archives of 14 law firms and service providers in Panama and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and other tax havens.

His successor, Dr Ruto, fought back after a fiasco over his bodyguards provided a sneak peek into his wealth.

A presentation by former Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to Parliament showed Dr Ruto had an interest in over 18,500 acres of real estate properties, two high-end hotels, five helicopters in two hangars at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport and a chicken farm. President Ruto disputed the wealth list.

“Going forward, we will work to achieve full automation of asset declarations for all public officials,” Treasury secretary Njuguna Ndung’u and Central Bank of Kenya Governor Patrick Njoroge wrote in a memorandum to the IMF. “A pilot program was put in place for EACC officials, and we plan to begin rollout in other institutions in FY2022/23.”

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