For long, skepticism over the government’s commitment to fighting graft has pervaded the country. However, in light of the latest scandals in which billions of shillings have been lost at the National Youth Service (NYS) and the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and decisive action by relevant authorities to apprehend the suspects, the message is clear; it will no longer be business as usual for those who thrive on corruption. Indeed, the lethargy in government had emboldened the culprits. For now, the proverbial 40 days might as well have come.
There is a sense of purpose in the offices of the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that perhaps, came with the injection of new blood in these institutions which, over time, had seemed out of depth in dealing with corruption.
So far, the usual buck-passing associated with these two offices and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) has been eschewed, and due to that, we are seeing action that has drawn the attention of Kenyans.
Public anger over corruption is palpable, majorly because the government has rarely moved beyond the rhetorical stage, issuing warnings and ultimatums nobody takes seriously. The reason for that being lack of political will to fight corruption.
It is in the public domain that corruption is not orchestrated by the so called ‘small fish’, yet sadly, when the government acts perfunctorily to assuage a restless public, it is the small fish that get caught; never the real masterminds. It is such deliberate shielding of the main culprits that many Kenyans have viewed such acts with a jaundiced eye.
Corruption remains a big blot on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy, and he knows it even as he pushes the Big Four agenda; an agenda that might fail because of the same corruption we keep decrying.
The president has said before that his hands are somewhat tied, but that notwithstanding, the buck stops with him.
Is it the seemingly belated realization that has galvanised him into action to save not just his legacy, but the country from being bankrupted?
The president has taken a different approach to fighting corruption and promises to wield the big stick with gusto, and he should too.
One of the measures signaling a paradigm shift in dealing with suspects is the executive order to have all procurement officers undergo vetting and polygraph tests. But while these might nab a few of the miscreants among them, there is the confident lot that could just manage to scrap through the process to continue their thieving ways. Moreover, such measures like wealth declaration never proved effective enough to deter corruption.
Besides the preliminary measures advocated by the president, a better deterrent would be penalties that make corruption an expensive undertaking as to make anybody tempted to indulge in it, to think twice.
The skepticism prevalent across the country will dissipate only after the real masterminds of corruption are made to cool their heels behind bars. Kenyans have a fairly accurate picture of who are involved, but it is incumbent upon the Executive and the Judiciary and to a large extent, the not-so-clean Parliament to help fix the menace. Kenyans have lost patience with shoddy investigations that often lead to a suspect’s acquittal.
The current tempo in the fight against graft should be maintained, if not taken a notch higher. It should not be seen as a smokescreen to shield sacred cows and deflect public attention. At the rate at which public funds are embezzled, the government has itself to blame when would be investors give Kenya a wide berth and those already in the country relocate to other destinations within the region, where corruption is minimal.
We have Rwanda as an example of how zero tolerance to corruption can make a huge difference. That Rwanda was a basket case in 1994 and has risen from the ashes is reason enough for soul searching. Kenya is an immensely rich country. Well managed, our resources can lift us out of the morass we find ourselves in.