Economy

BBI: Procurement, finance officials to get security clearance

bomas

Delegates arriving at the Bomas of Kenya, the venue for the official launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report on October 26, 2020. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

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Summary

  • BBI report proposes that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) be involved screening all candidates eyeing sensitive jobs such as public procurement and finance before employment can be hired.
  • The security screening for appointments in both the national government and county governments will also target officers handling classified information likely to be abused to influence key decisions involving State programmes.
  • The proposed changes come barely two years after President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered a lifestyle audit in government institutions, beginning with heads of procurement and accounting units, in a bid to expose those linked to graft.

Appointments to key offices handling public funds will be subject to mandatory security clearance if Kenyans endorse recommendations by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force to tighten probity checks on individuals seeking to hold such positions.

The report, presented last week to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, proposes that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) be involved screening all candidates eyeing sensitive jobs such as public procurement and finance before employment can be hired.

The security screening for appointments in both the national government and county governments will also target officers handling classified information likely to be abused to influence key decisions involving State programmes.

The BBI team has proposed amendments to the National Intelligence Service Act, 2012 to expand the definition of ‘vettable position’ to accommodate background checks on all officers managing public money and resources.

The law currently defines ‘vettable position’ as a State office, public office or position in either level of government requiring the holder of the position to have, in the performance of his or her official duties, access to sensitive or classified information or any other position as may be required under any written law.

The proposal by BBI reforms taskforce mirrors the tradition in developed economies such as the US and the UK where individuals must undergo examination and evaluation, including a background check, before they can be offered employment in the civil service to manage or access sensitive public assets such as budgets and information on state programmes and operations.

In the UK, for example, all individuals with any access to government assets, including all civil servants, members of the armed forces, temporary staff in departments, and government contractors, are subject to mandatory pre-employment screening commonly known as Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) checks.

It is only with such clearance that one is allowed to access UK official assets and occasional access to the country’s secret assets. One also requires the BPSS security approval to work in areas where “secret” and “top secret” information may be overheard. Individuals who require access to Public Services Network (PSN) in the UK also require security clearance.

In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says that eligibility for access to classified information is granted only to those for whom an appropriate personnel security background investigation has been completed.

“It must be determined that the individual’s personal and professional history indicates loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment, as well as freedom from conflicting allegiances and potential for coercion, and a willingness and ability to abide by regulations governing the use, handling, and protection of classified information,” the agency says, adding that such security clearances are reviewed every five years.

Lifestyle audit

The proposed changes come barely two years after President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered a lifestyle audit in government institutions, beginning with heads of procurement and accounting units, in a bid to expose those linked to graft.

The heads of procurement and finance were asked to step aside and undergo vetting by a panel of investigators following the President’s 2018 executive order.

Mr Kenyatta ordered the immediate suspension and prosecution of officials who failed the vetting. The exercise saw 400 managers cleared in the first phase of the vetting.

But critics said the President’s order did not go far enough as it left out those who the law stipulates should be held responsible.

The law holds accounting officers, who are normally Principal Secretaries in government ministries or chief executives of State corporations, personally accountable to Parliament for the regularity and propriety for all resources wholly funded through the Consolidated Fund.

The Public Investment Committee (PIC) chaired by Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir in its report on audited financial statements of State corporations found that some agencies engaged in irregular procurement deals, flouting provisions of the Public Procurement and Assets Disposal Act.

“The chief executive officers who exceed the maximum contract variation of 25 per cent provided for under Section 139(4) (e) of the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act 2015 should be surcharged for the variation in price incurred by their respective corporations over and above the allowed threshold in law,” PIC recommended.

In a bid to instill transparency in public procurement, Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua in mid-2018 asked accounting officers in ministries, departments and agencies to consolidate and publish tenders information, on the 15th of every month and have it uploaded on an online portal.

Information on the portal should include the basis of awarding the tenders, parameters of assessment, names and details of tender committee members as well as the value of each contract.