Strong institutions best solution for corruption

History has a habit of repeating itself. Strongmen are now making a resurgence in the world arena. The autocratic leadership styles of Donald Trump of America, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China are back in fashion.

Others like Narendra Modi of India, Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Recep Erdogan of Turkey have presided over rapid economic growth in their countries. There’s talk of a benevolent dictatorship being the panacea for Africa’s problems.

But the concept is alien in Africa. With few exceptions, most of the continent’s leaders do not possess a political appeal based around decisive leadership and a selflessness of purpose. If anything, those with unfettered powers become tyrants consumed with self-aggrandisement, giving in to sentient pleasures of the individual moment against the long-term well-being of the nation.

Former US president Barack Obama on his first official trip to Africa said, “Africa does not need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” This statement holds true for Kenya, going by the events of the last few weeks. It’s evident that the four pillars upon which President Uhuru Kenyatta hopes to hinge his legacy are threatened by runaway corruption.

Mixed results

The President, reacting in extremis, has sought to crack the whip on corruption with mixed results. There are those who view his actions as an assuaging of popular anger against institutionalised rot. For them, it is a long overdue move against the culture of clientelist relationships that exist between politicians and the business community.

Then there are those who feel that the crackdown on corruption is not targeted at the putrefaction in public institutions. Rather, it is perceived as an attempt to settle political scores or wrest control of key institutions for personal gain.

According to this school of thought, core Kenyan institutions including the intelligence community, the Judiciary, the Legislature and the media have been sucked into a Rubik’s cube of conflicting interests. These interests have turned erstwhile friends into bitter adversaries and vice-versa.

Sample this; a section of the media recently reported a loss of Sh95 billion at Kenya Pipeline Company, a State corporation. No attempt was made, prior to publication of that sensationalist outburst, to get the views of senior management.

No proof of missing funds was provided, only unsubstantiated allegations and half-truths, which sources say were leaked to the press by some disgruntled members of the board. This is perhaps what Donald Trump derisively refers to as “fake news.” But even fake news must have some modicum of credibility.

To put things in perspective, Sh95 billion is all the money allegedly lost in the infamous Goldenberg scam, Anglo-leasing deals and National Youth Service scams 1 and 2. It beggars belief that a company whose annual turnover is Sh28 billion, and declares profits of Sh10 billion, could lose such a colossal amount without detection over a relatively short period.

Denied bail

Then again, apprehended suspects of the NYS 2 scam were denied bail for a second time. In Kenya, bail is a constitutional right based on the presumption of one’s innocence until proven guilty.

Many lawyers aver that a simple test for bail should be based on the nature of the offence and whether there is the likelihood that an accused person will not show up for trial if released on bail. It is alleged that the magistrate acted on instructions from senior judicial officers.

It is also thought that he may have given in to pressure from the public, a strange case where the public has appropriated the powers to pass judgement and one where a magistrate has ceded those powers.

There is urgent need to strengthen State institutions. A report on the financial autonomy of the Judiciary should be brought down from the shelf and dusted. This is the sort of progressive “revisiting” Kenyans need.

Procurement officers and senior management teams are often indentured to rogue boards with vested and often illegal interests. Such boards should be looked at to avoid embarrassing fiascos such as what happened at the Kenya Ports Authority recently.

Finally, in the interests of equity, stepping aside should be on cogent evidence of wrong-doing, not on spurious allegations. Where there is deliberate opacity of information, the benefit of doubt should be accorded to the accused.

Prosecuting hearsay in the court of public opinion can only enhance, rather than detract from, the tremendous trust deficit in our institutions.

Mr Khafafa is vice chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council

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