Recent actions by President William Ruto in dealing with the Kemsa II scandal and the Kebs deals were considered by many as definitive steps in the war against corruption.
His subsequent call on his cabinet to zero tolerance of corruption was lauded by many. But what tipped the scales was the circular sent by Head of Public Service Felix Koskei to all government ministries, departments and agencies warning them against any corrupt practices.
For a fact, this is the strongest indication yet that the President is determined to tackle one of Kenya’s biggest economic menaces.
The strongly worded circular warned each state officer to take personal responsibility for the safe custody of the resources within their watch.
“You are strongly advised to take note of the specific constitutional and legislative provisions relating to each of your offices and to ensure compliance with your respective institutions,” read the circular. Mr Koskei further reiterated that “the President expects unwavering fidelity to the Constitution and to the people, on whose behalf you are managing public resources.” He therefore called on them to individually lead the fight against corruption.
This resolve by the President is in line with leaders across the globe that have successfully tackled corruption. Lee Kuan Yew, the celebrated Singapore Prime Minister, argued that the war on corruption can never be won with lacklustre attitude.
It requires a heart of diamond and a mind of steel at the highest level of leadership. And indeed, Lee demonstrated such resolve when he became Prime Minister.
Patrick Radden Keefe, reports that Singapore of the time was not only the hub for drug trade between India and China but was also beset by crime and corruption. When Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister, he announced that he was “sickened” by decadence and corruption and pledged to rid Singapore of graft.
Lee’s resolve was so strong that in 1986, when his minister for national development was found to have accepted kickbacks from two real-estate developers, the minister opted to kill himself than face the President. His suicide note addressed to Lee Kuan Yew saying, “It is only right that I should pay the highest penalty for my mistake.”
But these efforts paid off. By the time Lee stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990, Singapore had gone from being one of the most corrupt countries on the planet to one of the least. Last year 2022, Transparency International ranked Singapore the 5th least corrupt country in the world out of 180 countries. It means with the right systems in place and with a sustained resolve, a nation can be turned around. Like Singapore of the 1960s, Kenya has sunk into the deepest mire of evil behaviour. Corruption has not only become the preoccupation of almost every civil servant but is also the pastime of many of us.
Young and old alike have indicated in national surveys that they would steal from government if they had the opportunity. Where we have reached, we are on the verge of imminent national collapse if nothing is done. That is why President Ruto’s resolve offers perhaps the greatest hope for this nation. It puts public servants on check, denying them space to pass the buck when caught on the wrong foot.
It puts wind to the sails of the various national anti-graft and law enforcement agencies, giving them impetus to deal mercilessly with the greedy. It sends a message to the world, and especially development partners, that Kenya is on a new moral trajectory.
But more importantly, these efforts are likely to conserve and preserve our national resources, which if channelled strategically, can spur exponential economic growth, and reduce the cost of living for many.
That is why we must rally behind the President and help weed out the greedy from our midst. Of course, some Kenyans remain sceptical about the sustainability of this new resolve. And indeed, history shows that corruption has outlived all predictions of its demise.
However, in this case, the President may have just put the last nail in the graft coffin. What we need are pallbearers to help take it to its final resting place.
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