Electoral commission failed us by clearing ‘tainted’ candidates

 Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission cleared leaders with questionable past

For some, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)’s clearance of leaders with questionable past this week was inevitable.

Faced with repeated disappointments, it is easier on the emotions not to expect the future will be different. For the rest of us, our faith in our electoral system just suffered a crack and we must choose what to do next.

The establishment of the Chapter Six Working Group a month ago raised expectations that leadership integrity would underpin the upcoming General Election. The last two weeks has seen a vigorous national conversation on whether a criminal or ethical standards would guide the working group’s vetting of candidates.

Kenyans urged the IEBC, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Chapter Six vetting agencies to put a clean list before the Kenyan voter in August. The record of some of the most powerful and populist politicians found themselves under public scrutiny.

The Senate Public Accounts and Investment Committee, a Cabinet Secretary, bishops, editors, civic organisations and many citizens called for the IEBC to apply an ethical standard. Early this week, the National Integrity Alliance’s #RedCard20 became 87 when the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission submitted a list of 18 governors, 4 senators, 3 Women Reps, 25 MPs and 37 Members of County Assembly.

Most politicians have dismissed this attention as the work of detractors, opponents and busy-bodies. One was misadvised by his lawyer to sue for defamation. Another more impressively exercised his right to reply and responded to the claims.

Despite all this, in what could be one of the darkest moments in the history of Chapter Six, the IEBC has proceeded to clear nearly all the individuals on the EACC list. Unless, some of the clearances are revoked, this could be a disappointing end to an impressive set of integrity stress testing events. Why is integrity testing important for our electoral democracy? Afro-barometer research suggests we are all about to check out or get really rebellious. Less than 25 per cent of our younger citizens are committed to governance and public affairs.

Army, religious and traditional leaders are now more trusted than elected leaders. Protests and riots are up ten-fold and electoral violence has occurred three times more in this decade than in the last. We live in a time of unprecedented contempt or praise for leaders. Yet, neither leader vilification or glorification leaves us or them with new openings for raising the integrity bar.

We need to ask ourselves as citizens, when did we cross the ethical line? When did it become okay to justify and rationalise unethical behaviour? That it is okay to bully and beat our children when they don’t do as we demand? That it is okay to use the company’s time and resources to do private business? That, despite the explicit advice of the EACC, we may vote in leaders who have failed to protect public monies and resources. Until we are willing to throw banknotes back in the face of candidates who seek to buy us for Sh40, we are vulnerable.

As leaders, when did you cross the ethical line? When did it become okay to amass unimaginable wealth using public resources? When did the argument that you have accomplished so much and that corruption is not hurting anyone begin to make sense? When did your word become a tool to manage public expectations and not one that holds you accountable? How did your personal integrity become the cat and mouse game of lawyers and judges? Six governors and 21 MPs lost in the primaries. Voters have tasted their power and if exercised well could still produce the collective leadership we need.

To elect unethical leaders would be like planting lemon trees on August 8 and expecting to harvest bananas in future. We cannot allow those that seek our mandate to govern enter our house with dirty feet. The next episode in Chapter Six is about to be written but we are the ones who can decide whether it will be a repeat episode or the premiere of a new season.

- The writer is Society for International Development Associate Director. The views are personal. [email protected] or @irunguhoughton