Eliud Wabukala: Outgoing EACC Chair gets candid on what it will take to win graft warMonday January 23 2023
Archbishop Eliud Wabukala tells a story of how early in his ministry, a senior bishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya posted him to a small remote parish in Mount Elgon.
Aware of the treacherous terrain in the area and the dreariness of village life, he found his new posting underwhelming.
But he had no choice but to take up the assignment at the outpost.
‘‘Where there are human beings, I will work. I went there and worked. Those people are still my friends,’’ says the outgoing chairperson of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).
Archbishop Wabukala, 72, is recounting the circumstances under which he accepted the offer for a volatile job at EACC even after all past occupants of the office fell by the wayside.
The situation at EACC in 2016 was frightening, he says. ‘‘It was not an institution you wanted to associate with.’’
John Haroun Mwau, Justice Aaron Ringera, and Prof PLO Lumumba were all hounded out of office, and so were their successors Mumo Matemu and Philip Kinisu.
With hindsight now, does the man from Bungoma County think taking up the job was the best decision? Archbishop Wabukala says he was hesitant at first.
‘‘I had a conviction that someone had to do the job. I knew God was in the calling that I was entering. Even with the difficulties that existed, it has been easier to run EACC than it was running the church,’’ he says.
Serving on the National Anti-Corruption Campaign Steering Committee, he adds, had given him a glimpse of the state of corruption in the country. What he did not know, however, was the magnitude of the rot.
‘‘I understood the ethics component and the impact it could have [in the fight]. Having done the work in theory [as a bishop] now I had an opportunity to do it practically at EACC,’’ he says.
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Yet from family to friends and the church, everyone he consulted was dead set against this assignment. Still, he took it up after ‘‘a lot of prayer and soul-searching.’’
The EACC has in the past faced accusations of being used to fight political battles. While admitting that fighting corruption is challenging, Archbishop Wabukala dismisses such claims as a witchhunt.
‘‘We worked professionally. We have a manual that guides our investigations,’’ he says.
Was the commission ever under pressure from the State to investigate some individuals?
‘‘Nobody ever called to ask me to investigate anyone. Accusations of favouritism, ethnicity, and nepotism will always be there. When the court pronounces itself, it vindicates our work,’’ he says.
In recent weeks, some corruption cases have either been withdrawn by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions or stalled in court.
The archbishop, though, argues that it is unfair to judge the EACC based on convictions.
‘‘The commission’s mandate is quite wide. Apart from enforcement and investigations, it also has to prevent corruption by sealing loopholes in institutions and educating the public [about the vice],’’ says Archbishop Wabukala.
The commission, he says, focused majorly on high-impact cases and those that would generate public interest.
It then went into recovering assets that had been acquired illegally, netting more than Sh22 billion worth of assets by the time of his exit.
He laments, though, that opinion polls have not always favoured the agency. When he joined the commission, internal conflict had paralysed most operations.
He says his first mission was to interrogate the staff and their interests. Then he sought to improve their welfare.
Also read: EACC probes five Isiolo county officers over Sh196m fraud
‘‘We upskilled where we needed to and promoted individuals who had been stagnant in positions for a long time. The atmosphere created was one of motivation,’’ he says.
On his overall performance, he says: ‘‘I have contributed something. Not as much as Kenyans may have expected. But I have brought value.’’
So, what has his tenure taught him about Kenyans and running institutions?
‘‘This kind of job has allowed me to understand the human person even more. I have also learned that you must work within the mandate of a job, not outside of it. You must follow the law, regulations, and operational manuals.’’
He believes he has left behind a ‘‘formidable body’’ with greater stability and credibility than he found six years ago and that with support, the EACC is a strong institution.
‘‘The people there are hardworking and focused. [Together] we have turned things around. EACC will need more resources and more personnel. More training for the people is needed,’’ he says.
He may be leaving a better institution behind, but is he leaving a better person? Has the duel with corruption left his spirituality intact?
‘‘I am replenished. As a theologian, looking at the nature of human beings from the perspective of God, I have learned a lot. I will reflect more on it later and perhaps see how I can convert this experience to support other people.’’
He is also leaving with more insider information. What does he think will take to win the war on graft? Archbishop Wabukala says ‘‘our conscience must be pricked’’ for integrity to take root.
‘‘When one person is being arrested and arraigned in court, another is planning to steal. Until we own up, admit that corruption is a problem and that we are the problem, it will always be difficult.’’
Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, his successor at the Anglican Church of Kenya, is now pushing for the appointment of more clergymen to State jobs. His thoughts?
Not every man of God can bring change to a public office, says the former lecturer of theology.
‘‘It is not possible to serve the public when you are in ministry full time. I was available because I had retired. It is also about the skills. If the skill is not available elsewhere, then it is right.’’
He summarises the end of his tenure in two words: relief and joy. About his next mission, he says he is leaving his options open.
‘‘I have had many transitions in life. Before I was bishop, I had worked in many places. Whatever I have to do next will present itself in God’s good time.’’