After decades of corruption, President Uhuru Kenyatta has embarked on a noble quest to rid the country of the vice. Years of clientelism have ensured that graft is firmly entrenched in the everyday lives of the citizenry. Reports say a third of the country’s budget is lost to corruption annually.
The President acknowledges that it is a threat to national security; what he intends to do is therefore no mean feat. Should he succeed, it will be the very definition of his legacy, as the slayer of the graft dragon.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji is the face of the current fight against corruption. After years of the torpidity of past office holders, he is a breath of fresh air, a draw card that has the approbation of most of a nation wearied by years of official abetting.
Soft spoken, he has, so far, walked the talk. The courts are now replete with hundreds of graft suspects at various stages of criminal trial. Unlike his predecessors, who were all “sound and fury signifying nothing,” Mr Haji has proved that his bite is worse than his bark.
Because of the nature of past scandals that resulted in losses of billions of shillings, there has been a clamour for high-profile convictions. This is because of the perception that only small financial crimes are disproportionately punished in Kenya, leaving the architects of mega scams with not even a slap on the wrist.
Understandably, the arrests and subsequent arraignment in court of leading figures in Government has elicited profound excitement. But it is the arrest of Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) Philomena Mwilu over a variety of allegations that has stopped the nation in its tracks.
Mwilu is a judge of the Supreme Court of Kenya, the second most powerful individual in the Judiciary. The Judiciary is one of three autonomous arms of Government, alongside the Executive and the Legislature.
The arrest of one of the luminaries of the Judiciary’s apex court ought to have satisfied the blood-lust of those clamouring for high-level prosecutions. Instead, it has had the exact opposite effect. Whereas the arrest of other personalities united the country, the DCJ’s arraignment in a magistrate’s court has fissured Kenyans along political party and ethnic lines.
The merits or demerits of the case against the DCJ are now the subject of a constitutional court interpretation and cannot be commented on. But there are three points drawn that may aid Kenya in the corruption fight.
The first is that the vetting panels of civil servants must carefully curate holders of public offices to avoid skeletons in closets from popping up at inopportune times. These panels should not overlook venal and selfish interests that override obligations to the citizenry, nor should they withhold such information to be unleashed on persons of contrarian dispositions with the intention of forcing them to toe a popular line.
Suitability must be in strict adherence to Chapter Six of the Kenya Constitution 2010, where the integrity benchmarks are clearly stipulated. DCJ Mwilu was vetted and cleared by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, Kenya Revenue Authority and Parliament among other bodies. The allegations of criminal activity going back five years are now surfacing two years into her tenure.
Second, the DPP will require great percipience to discern that not every problem need be resolved by the institution of criminal proceedings. There will be many challenges that will answer to some form of administrative action permissible in law. The DPP has a lot of powers and can recommend a raft of alternative solutions. Not everything that lands on his desk needs o be prosecuted in court.
Third, the fight against corruption must not be personalised, as this has the deleterious effect of polarising the country. The DCJ alleges that the President Kenyatta is behind her woes.
She cites his threat to “revisit” and “fix” the Judiciary after it ruled against his Jubilee Party in last year’s presidential petition. Others see the composition of the DCJ’s defence team as being largely from the NASA party brigade, a continuation of last year’s contentious presidential fight.
For the corruption fight to continue with the goodwill of all Kenyans, the President may require a slice of humble pie. He may need to retract the “revisit” statement. Eating his words will not cause him indigestion. It will do good rather than harm, enhance rather than detract from his stature as a crusader against graft.
Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council.