Uhuru wants public servants to stop dealing in private business

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto during the National Anti-Corruption Conference at the Bomas of Kenya. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta is shifting gears in the purge against endemic graft if the proposals he tabled yesterday at the National Anti-Corruption Conference are anything to go by.

His proposal that seeks to keep public officers off private businesses was last night being hailed as a turning point in the purge, even as he announced the scaling up of lifestyle audit to top most levels of his government. 

Speaking during the event at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi yesterday, where all stakeholders committed themselves to the fight, the President directed the Attorney General to draft a Bill that will restrain all public servants from privately engaging in activities that are in conflict with or benefit from their officers.

To accomplish this, the President wants the AG’s Bill to interrogate the recommendations of a 1971 report that allowed public servants to engage in private business as long as they maintained professional and ethical standards.

“In line with the proposals made by this forum, I direct the Attorney-General to prepare a Bill that will address the “Question of conflict of interest” and the unintended consequences that arose from the ‘Ndegwa Commission Report of 1971’,” said Kenyatta during the anti-corruption conference.

The Ndegwa Commission Report, initially intended to inject some life into a moribund private sector, has instead been blamed for the broad-day light looting of state resources.  

There have been cases of traffic police officers operating fleets of matatus, making it difficult for their juniors on duty to act on them when they are involved in traffic offenses.

Moreover, in the ongoing war against corruption, the public has been treated to an eye-watering spectacle where junior workers in some State Departments own properties that are way beyond their income.

But as President Kenyatta explained, the law will prohibit any action by any State or Public Officer that creates a conflict of interest, dual loyalties or an advantage over other persons who do not hold such office. 

Every public servants, from Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, Senators, Members of National Assembly to teachers and clerical officers will be affected by the new law.

“For example, MPs, including Senators, should no longer use committee powers to demand information from public offices, and then utilise that same information in their other pursuits. State and public officers will have a simple choice, serve in the public arena or do private business.

It will be interesting to see how this law will be implemented given that high-ranking government officials are active in private enterprises, and are known to use their position to bag most of the government tenders.

Whereas Ndegwa Commission noted that public servants should prioritise service to public, the recommendation saw civil servants spend the better part of their working hours running their businesses rather than serving the public.

For example, a 2016 report by the Education Commission showed that nearly a half of primary schools teachers do not attend classes costing the country Sh27 billion a year.

The Ndegwa Commission provided that as long as certain ethics were adhered to a code of ethics, there was no objection to public officers owning property or businesses.

“That government should consider requiring all senior civil servants to make a complete statement of their interests.”

Kenyatta said that despite concerted efforts to fight corruption, the vice continued to spread in the society like cancer, infecting public bodies, the religious arena, professional bodies and private Institutions.  

Arraigned in Court

Kitu kidogo, chai, asante, lunch, chicken……. Corruption has become an accepted way of life. As individuals and collectively, we have sacrificed our traditions, customs and values at the altar of materialism,” said the President. 

“Rather than shunning those who have made their wealth through illicit means, we celebrate them even in places of worship.”

The government’s aggressive war on corruption has seen senior state officers arraigned in court, with most of them losing their positions as well.

Kenyatta is on record stating that he would like to cast his legacy around the war on corruption, and has since declared it a national security threat.

"I wish to reassure Kenyans that no matter which corner of the globe one hides funds stolen from Kenya, that illicit wealth is no longer beyond the reach of the government," said the President.

"With regard to recovery measures for proceeds of corruption within our borders, we have commenced a number of interventions that have already began to bear fruit. Step by Step, we shall win this war," he added.