Why Ruto's fight against graft is losing steam fast

President William Ruto. [PCS]

President William Ruto’s commitment to eradicate corruption seems to remain powerful in words and not deeds, according to the latest report by Transparency International (TI).

The report released on January 30 revealed that most countries, including Kenya, have made little to no progress in tackling corruption in more than a decade, amidst weakening justice systems across the world that continue to leave corruption unchecked.

The 2023 edition of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) ranked 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives.

“Denmark, Finland and New Zealand topped the index, with 90, 87, and 85 points respectively while Somalia, Venezuela, Syria and South Sudan fell at the bottom with scores of 11, 13 and 13, respectively. More than two-thirds of countries scored below 50 out of 100,” the report read in part.

The report paints a gloomy picture of the status of corruption in Kenya after declining from a score of 32 in 2022 to 31 out of 100, with the country being ranked 126 out of the 180 countries and territories assessed. The CPI uses a scale of 0-100 (where 100 is the cleanest and 0 is the most corrupt).

Global average

“Kenya’s score (31 points) fell below the Sub-Saharan average score of 33 and the global average score of 43 (a score below 50 indicates serious levels of public sector corruption),” the report indicated.

The corruption watchdog showed that Rwanda topped the East African region with 53 points compared to 51 points in 2022, Tanzania scored 40 from 38, Uganda maintained a score of 26, and Burundi has 20 from 17 points in CPI 2022.

 “Countries that scored above the global average from the Sub-Saharan Africa region included Seychelles (71 points), Cabo Verde (64 points), Botswana (59 points), Rwanda (53 points), Mauritius (51 points), Namibia (49 points), and São Tomé and Príncipe (45 points),” the reported stated.

The increased perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to the report, was attributed to lack of successful prosecutions in graft cases witnessed in the recent past, with a number of cases either dragged inordinately, withdrawn by the prosecution or resulted in acquittals with no publicly known efforts to review the withdrawn cases or appeal the cases lost.

“One glaring example is the bungled Sh63 billion Arror-Kimwaror dam graft case, which is one among the several mismanaged cases that are seemingly part of a broader pattern of controversies that have plagued the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) in the recent past.

"Such controversial collapse of cases has eroded public confidence in ODPP's ability to uphold the rule of law and tame corruption,” the report read.

Water down

The report also cited attempts to water down some of the anti-corruption laws such as the proposals to repeal certain provisions of the anti-corruption legislation, including the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act (ACECA), 2003, that governs investigation, prosecution and punishment of corruption and economic crimes, as a reason for increased perception of public sector corruption.

“Implementation of such amendments could have undermined transparency, accountability, and the rule of law, and erode public trust, ultimately encouraging corruption and reinforcing networks of impunity,” the report read.

The TI decried that the continued appointment of individuals with tainted integrity and persons accused of corruption to the helm of public service administration at both national and county levels.

To effectively tackle corruption in Kenya, the TI called for upholding the independence of the Judiciary.

“Preserving the independence of the Judiciary is paramount, and any investigation into allegations of corruption should be conducted transparently, impartially, and with utmost respect for due process,’’ said Sheila Masinde, executive director of Transparency International Kenya.

The report also called for application of leadership and integrity standards, urging the courts to be resolute to help ensure that justice is served, and individuals whose conduct offends the Constitution and other laws are barred from holding public office.

The report comes at a time when President Ruto has vowed to eradicate corruption in his administration and also in the Judiciary.

Last month while in Meru, the head of state reassured Kenyans that the Kenya Kwanza alliance will ensure public resources are used to fund programmes that will transform the lives of Kenyans. 

“I want to give you my commitment. In the fight against corruption, there will be no negotiation,” he said.

On Thursday, religious leaders drawn from evangelical churches in Kenya under their umbrella organisation, Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, led by their chairperson Bishop Phillip Kitoto and Anglican Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit raised concern over increased graft in the country.

The church promised to intensify the fight against corruption from the pulpit and vowed to implement measures to ensure that places of worship are not used to launder corruptly acquired money.

But even as the government and non-state actors promise to put up a spirited fight against graft, revelations by Controller of Budget (CoB) Margaret Nyakang'o exposing budgeted corruption in government paints a picture that if there exist any gaps that facilitate corruption, they exist by design.

Nyakang'o revealed that the National Treasury tripled its annual salary from the Consolidated Fund Services for the 2023/24 financial year. The CoB spilt the beans last year on October 31 while appearing before the National Dialogue Committee.

“The exaggerations are in the National Treasury. When I was doing the budget for Consolidated Fund Services, this is where my salary is paid from, I found out that my salary was budgeted at three times what my annual salary is, and it was like that for all the State officers. I am the only State office in my institution. So, there's nothing like confusion there; I am all alone. So, I asked them why the budget is showing three times. I have not received the answer," she said.

Budgeted graft

In the last financial year, CoB released the national government budget implementation review report for the first nine months of the financial year 2022/23. In her report, she revealed that Sh363.66 billion was processed as salaries through the integrated personnel and payroll database and other approved systems.

Such revelations have given the Opposition a field day, claiming matters have been made worse after the Executive captured the National Assembly and efforts to silence the Judiciary.

According to Jubilee Party Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni, the government's efforts to lower the cost of living will not bear fruit due to what he termed as budgeted corruption.

“The corruption levels being witnessed in this country have never been witnessed before, even the graft cases that informed the creation of the anti-graft commission had never reached the levels we are witnessing” claimed Kioni.

He added: “Instead of complimenting the former regimes to seal loopholes on corruption, the Kenya Kwanza administration is shockingly creating loopholes for corruption and every Kenyan should be extremely worried.”

He cited the privatisation of government-owned agencies, and the Sh16.5 billion edible oils scandal as the graft cases that the government was allegedly presiding over.

“They had claimed that KICC was making losses until Kenyans cross-checked and knew the Kenya Kwanza coalition was lying. Most of these schemes will be a replica of how farmers lost over Sh100 million after Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) changed to New Kenya Co-operative Creameries (NKCC) Limited,” Kioni claimed.

Prof Gitile Naituli, a governance and political expert, claimed the corruption levels in the government were causing the depreciation of the Kenya shilling.

He said the strength of the Kenyan shilling is determined by the foreign reserves and that when stealing is taking place, the shilling automatically depreciates.

“We actually don’t require the report by TI to tell that corruption is rampant in Kenya. The other indicator is the stock market. When investors realise that the environment is stinking with corruption and bureaucracies, they withdraw to look for areas where they can get benefits,” he added.

However, UDA Secretary to Legal Affairs Edward Muriu trashed the TI report and urged Kenyans to give the Kenya Kwanza administration time to deliver its mandate to the people.

While defending the Kenya Kwanza administration, Government Spokesperson Isaac Mwaura said President Ruto was committed to fighting corruption to the extent that the Head of Public Service called for a forum with civil society organisations last October but "Transparency International refused to participate".

No room

"President Ruto has made it very clear that there is no room for corruption in the govt. You all know his all too famous quote, mambo ni matatu. When there were corruption allegations at Kemsa, both the Principal Secretary and the CEO of Kemsa were shown the door. 

"Over and above the EACC, there is an anti-corruption unit in the executive office of the president to help deal with the situation.  In fact, the Head of Public Service held a forum with Civil Society Organizations in october last year, but Transparency International refused to participate," Mwaura told The Standard.

Mwaura further said "the examples given as why our CPI ratings may have dropped are contemplative since they are based on a proposed legislation that is yet to be passed... I call upon TI and other CSOs to work with the govt to help combat this vice that has been a threat to our collective future and a common sense of purpose."