Bill to stop civil servants from trading with State

A new Bill that proposes jail term and fines for public officers who do not disclose conflicts of interest has been unveiled. 

According to the Conflict of Interest Bill 2019, a public official who submits false information or fails to provide their wealth declaration forms could be imprisoned for up to three years, fined up to a million shillings or both.

Those who fail to declare a conflict of interest face a fine of up to Sh5 million.

Similarly, an MP or MCA who is found guilty of using information obtained by virtue of his position to advance their private interests could also be imprisoned or fined.

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The Bill being introduced by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) comes just days after the release of the highly anticipated Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report, which proposes banning of State and public officers from conducting business with the State.

If enacted, the Bill will have far-reaching implications on elected officials, doctors in public hospitals or teachers in public schools, a number of whom run private practices. 

It will be an offence that can attract a jail term of up to four years for a public officer to make an official decision on an issue or area they are aware of a conflict of interest.

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The spirit of the Bill is to stop the country from bleeding cash through corrupt deals that are perpetuated by public officers to benefit their businesses.

The object of the Act, the draft Bill states, is to promote objectivity and impartiality in decision-making by public officers, ensure their integrity in decision-making is not compromised by private interests, enhance public confidence in delivery of public services and provide an institutional framework for the management of conflict of interest.

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The extent to which high-ranking and influential government officials and their proxies have turned government contracts into lucrative business opportunities by inflating contract sums or falsifying supplies is anecdotally high.

Using front men, high-ranking civil servants and some senior politicians sell products and services to the government as contractors. In other instances, employees use privileged information they receive by virtue of their positions to benefit their businesses.

But the BBI report is proposing barring civil servants from involving themselves in business to save the country from bleeding cash. Some of the proposals include making wealth declaration forms open to public scrutiny. 

Yet this is not the first time the country is proposing tougher regulations for civil servants. 

In January, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed Attorney General Kihara Kariuki to come up with a legislative proposal to address a legal loophole that permitted public officers to engage in private businesses, despite conflicting with their roles in government.

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The EACC last week held a public workshop for the Conflict of Interest Bill. Should the Bill be enacted, it will follow similar attempts to seal corruption loopholes in South Africa, which enacted the Revised Code of Conduct that came into effect on August 1, 2016. SOuth Africa's Code prohibits public servants from doing business with the State as individuals or through companies in which they are directors.

Some of the proposals include a temporary vacation of office for a public officer under investigation for contraventions of the provisions of the Bill.

International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) Executive Director Ndungu Wainaina points to the multitude of laws that govern integrity. "Rather than having a plethora of laws addressing integrity, ethics, corruption, economic crimes and conflict of interest, why not repeal all existing laws and consolidate them into one comprehensive law?" Mr Wainaina poses. 

Lawyer Charles Kanjama says issues of conflict of interest could be a factor of culture rather than issues of law. "We need to interrogate deeper... because we have statutory and constitutional provisions prohibiting conflict of interest," says Mr Kanjama. 

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CorruptionWar against corruptionTendersConflict of Interest Bill 2019