Switzerland President’s pledge to recover stolen funds stashed abroad will bolster war on corruption

President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a deal with Swiss President Alain Berset to return stolen wealth from Switzerland. [Courtesy]
The Council of Governors (COG) is the property of Kenyan citizens. It is a public entity whose primary objective is to make devolution work.

Through it, governors are expected to plan together for the success of devolved government. It is not a trade union, or a pressure group, for narrow interests.

The Intergovernmental Relations Act (2012) established this institution as a forum in which governors would gather to contribute to a common basket of ideas on how best to serve Kenyans.

It would also provide a platform for collective engagement with the National Government, through the National and County Government Coordinating Summit.

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The President chairs the Summit. In his absence, the Deputy President plays this role. The Summit is, accordingly, the highest forum in managing relations between the two levels of government, as well as managing relations between counties.

The COG is expected to minimise contestation – for example about resources – between counties. This forum may also enable blocks of counties to jointly develop public utilities that could be of benefit to more than one county.

The Public Finance Act, on the other hand, gives the COG and the National Government further opportunity to discuss and agree on economic matters. 

These things do not make the council an elite protest movement for selfish narrow interests. Tragically, this is what the COG is increasingly shaping into – a parochial fat cat protection club.

This is the impression the council gives most of the time. It is true that the National Government has sometimes usurped some functions, powers and even funds that rightly belong to devolved government.

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These include functions in health, water, roads and agriculture. The council has come out admirably well to protect devolution in such contexts. 

Curious spectacle

The COG, however, fails miserably when it stands in the way of justice and – in fact – presents a profile of lordship of impunity. In a curious spectacle this week, for example, governors gathered in Nairobi – at public expense - to protest the arraigning in court of one of them.

The governor has been charged with abuse of office. The ill-tempered governors gave a press conference that was an appalling comedy of errors.

They falsely alleged that they enjoy immunity from civil and criminal prosecution while in office. There is nothing like that.

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The governors talked of imaginary laws that allegedly protect them from prosecution. It should not surprise us that some actually believe this falsehood. This might explain why some have turned their offices into personal gravy trains.

A subsequent statement posted on the COG website on Thursday toned down the rhetoric, somewhat. However, the cringing clutch on impunity remains.

The governors suggest that a stealing colleague should be treated as some sort of dignified thief and a public pet dog. He should be handled differently from ordinary malefactors.

The COG statement says the war against corruption must be executed “with respect to the law and not by public lynching.”

It is not clear what other law the governors have in mind, if they are protesting against arraignment of one of them to court. Both the police and the courts handled the man in a very civil manner, all the way.

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Going forward, the COG must unequivocally support the war on corruption. Information in public domain says a few more governors will soon be charged with corruption.

Hopefully, the COG will refrain from crying wolf. If there are thieves within the fraternity (and sorority), they will face justice as individuals. Citizens, for their part, must keep a keen eye on the COG, to ensure it is doing what it was set up to do. 

Meanwhile, serious philosophical questions arise on the resident wisdom in our unbridled staling habits. So what after this primitive accumulation of public property?

Chinua Achebe remarkably tells us of a character called Unoka, in the classic Things Fall Apart. He says of this man, “In his day, he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow.

If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought guards of palm wine and called around his neighbours and made merry. He often said that whenever he saw a dead man’s mouth he saw the folly of not eating what one had in one’s lifetime.”

Unoka’s improvidence aside, there is ageless wisdom in his worldly philosophy. In western Kenya, it is our culture to view the remains of the dead, as part of paying our last respects to them. What goes through your mind at such times belongs to the privacy of your innermost thoughts.

Occasionally, however, some people get it off their chest. And we have carried this to places where we are domiciled away from our ancestral lands.

Once, when an exceedingly wealthy man in government died, six years ago, a mourner from Emanyulia remarked over a cup of tea with friends, “As I looked at his dead mouth, I saw the futility of amassing what you cannot eat. This man has spent all his life accumulating massive wealth and developing lifestyle diseases because of worrying about it. In the end, he just dies and goes away with his mouth. He leaves behind all that for other people to eat and the rest for them to fight over.”

Such is the harsh reality of life. President Uhuru Kenyatta and the President of Switzerland, Alain Berset, this week signed an agreement that should possibly see up to Sh72 billion flow into Kenya from Switzerland.

This is money our fellow countrymen have over the years stolen and stashed away in Swiss banks. To what good end?

It is believed that stolen funds from the country are also idling in accounts in Malta, Isle of Man and in Jersey Island, among other places. Let these matters be pursued without protests from ethnic and elite clubs.

- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. [email protected]

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Council of GovernorsThe Intergovernmental Relations ActPublic Finance ActAlain Bersetcorruption scandal