Graft is endemic and poses an existential threat to Kenya. [iStockphoto]

John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the USA and the youngest to be elected epitomised great courage and vision.

He came into office at a time of turmoil and challenges on many fronts; the Cold War, tension over the possibility of a nuclear war with the Soviets and low economic growth. He used his position to navigate through all that and made Americans the most optimistic citizens of the time.

In his memorable peace speech in June 1963, he called world powers to a peaceful resolution of conflicts. He particularly beseeched America to change its attitude, for the better, towards its enemies. Further afield, the story is the same for Singapore's Lee Kwaun Yew and President Seretse Kama of Botswana.

Both leaders are celebrated for building their nations on the platform of responsive, accountable and working public sector. Their words and actions inspire many for lifting their people from the rubble and making their nations oases of good governance and prosperity.

Back at home, Kenyans mention President Mwai Kibaki with nostalgia. They remember him, especially his first term, as a transformative leader. He drove the country on a trajectory of reforms, especially in the public sector.

The enactment of new laws and review of policies on public sector governance galvanised the mood of the country as a working and prosperous nation. This is probably the only time when Kenyans were rated the most optimistic people in the world. Leaders shape cultures and set the vision of a country.

They define how bureaucrats should run the affairs and business of the State. Their beliefs, values and thoughts form the governance philosophy and guide those in critical positions. The words, pronouncements as well as actions of leaders have significant impacts on decision-making.

Public offices

Those in public offices take cue from the pronouncements and actions of the head of government. Understandably, every government institution has to align its policies and allocate resources to realise the mission the government of the day.

Like any reasonable and competent leaders before, every head of government has to set the tone to fix the most pressing and immediate concerns of the people on assuming office.

In Kenya today, the high cost of living, unemployment and endemic corruption and poor service delivery of public institutions are the issues bedevilling the country.

Corruption and bad governance remain the overarching problems that not only precipitates and aggravates, but also impedes efforts to address other challenges. Graft is endemic and poses an existential threat to Kenya.

It is therefore imperative for leaders to use their positions strategically to address the runaway corruption and bad governance that are the Achilles heel of the nation. In every sector, graft and wastage, if not addressed swiftly and decisively, will hamstring every effort to fix the development agenda.

In fact, all government institutions are one allocation away from a scandal. Corruption and bad governance are the malignant tumour that consumes efforts to grow the nation and better the lives of Kenyans. Any serious leader must address corruption and bad governance as a matter of priority.

Kenyans want to hear, see and feel their leaders' words and actions to address bad governance. This will inspire public confidence and inject hope of better governance in the people. Leaders should use the entrusted powers and authority to show commitment to make sound decisions and better service delivery to the people. Such commitment will form the basis of accountability of their actions.

The major challenge to the implementation of anti-corruption reforms has been the lack of strong political will. Corruption and bad governance are the children of political decisions. Well-intended leaders have put in place strong and independent institutions to deal with corruption.