Why turf wars could hamper fight on graft

DPP Noordin Haji, whose appointment gave fresh impetus to the fight against runaway corruption. [Photo, File]

An incident on Wednesday evening where police foiled an attempt by anti-graft investigators to arrest two detectives has revealed a simmering feud between the two agencies.

The attempt by four officers from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to lay a trap and seize two officers attached to the Kabete Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has been interpreted by some police officers as an attempt to portray the DCI as corrupt.

The EACC claimed the operation failed when police shot in the air to scare away its detectives.

For a year now, the DCI has worked hand-in-glove with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to the apparent exclusion of the EACC.

The appointment in January of George Kinoti as the DCI boss and that of Noordin Haji later in March as the DPP gave fresh impetus to the fight against runaway corruption.

Public confidence in the war on graft had waned, especially given the EACC had become dysfunctional, with the forced resignation of its commissioners in 2015 and the ouster of yet another chairman in 2016.

State House

It was at the height of that drama in October 2016 that President Uhuru Kenyatta expressed his helplessness with the memorable quote, "What do you want me to do?" during a State House summit on the fight against corruption in which he said he had asked dozens of top officials to step aside over graft claims.  

The leadership vacuum in EACC would later prompt the withdrawal of high-profile graft cases last year following a court ruling that the EACC was not properly constituted when it recommended their prosecution.

It was not lost on observers that the shake-up of the agencies involved in the war on corruption was among the first business for President Kenyatta once he had secured a second term.

It is against that backdrop that all major corruption cases are now being investigated by the DCI and, with the DPP's approval, top officials have found themselves detained, particularly on Fridays.

The EACC appears to have been sidelined in the renewed crackdown. All major cases where high-profile suspects have been charged, from the National Youth Service, Kenya Power, Kenya Pipeline, Kenya Bureau of Standards, Kenya Revenue Authority and the National Hospital Insurance Fund, among others, are currently being handled by the DCI.

At Integrity Centre, the EACC headquarters, there has been a feeling that the DPP and the Asset Recovery Agency are comfortable working with Mr Kinoti, yet the agency is mandated to handle matters graft.

The incident also comes at a time when Kinoti is training his eyes on the alleged irregular acquisition of Integrity Centre at a whopping Sh1.5 billion; a transaction that auditors have also questioned. 

Kinoti’s office feels that the EACC is well funded while its officers are well trained and remunerated, yet they have posted a dismal performance. This is compared to the DCI that has a wider investigative mandate, yet its officers are poorly paid.

But EACC Spokesman Yasin Amaro sought to play down any rivalry claims, saying: “Through the Multi-Agency Taskforce (MAT) we have been working very well with the DCI and we shall continue working so because it’s in the interest of our mandate."

Mr Haji also said there was no conflict between the two agencies. “They know their mandates and they are working well for the country. I am not aware of any conflict or rivalry between them."

He added that the agencies meet regularly under MAT for various operational issues, and that the cooperation had proved to be working well.

Kinoti, too, said the DCI was working well with the EACC on various issues, adding that they met regularly for planning purposes.

“No rivalry at all. We work well for a better Kenya. We have mechanisms that we use in addressing any issue that may be there,” he said.

On August 18 this year, EACC Chairman Eliud Wabukala led the commission chiefs to State House as fears intensified that Uhuru had lost confidence in the agency and was leaning more towards the DCI.

Source of competition

The President, however, assured the EACC of his support and advised it to work closely with other agencies, saying the war against corruption should not be a source of competition within Government.

“Nothing will be further from the truth to say that you do not have my support,” said Uhuru, adding that the anti-corruption fight would bear better results if it was conducted through the multi-agency framework that brings together the DPP, DCI, EACC and other security agencies.

The tension between the DCI and EACC had escalated in July when EACC Vice-Chairperson Sophia Lepuchirit sought to have police barred from investigating corruption cases.

Ms Lepuchirit was addressing the media after opening a training workshop for integrity assurance officers in Naivasha, where she accused the police of being tainted and hence unfit to probe corruption.

Learning of the blunder, the EACC promptly claimed Lepuchirit had been misquoted even though footage from the press conference indicated otherwise.

In her own words, which were later withdrawn to save face and play down the apparent conflict, she made reference to results from corruption index surveys where police always came out on top.

"In every integrity survey that is done, the police department is always top on matters corruption and this means that they cannot be trusted to fight graft," she said.

At the time, the DCI had been seen as usurping the EACC’s powers in probing corruption, even though graft is a criminal matter, hence the overlapping mandates.

But Lepuchirit may have been expressing her honest views in questioning the credibility of the DCI, especially when its officers had arrested suspects in the NYS II scam.

The DCI had also probed and subsequently arrested top managers of Kenya Power in what is turning out to be a mega procurement scam.

"Economic crime cases should be solely investigated by the EACC and the Office of the DPP and police should deal with criminal cases alone," Lepuchirit said.