War on graft take hit as senate amends Conflict of Interest Bill

Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina at a past committee meeting at Parliament buildings. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The fight against corruption has suffered a major setback following parliament’s amendments to the Conflict of Interest Bill, 2023.

The amendments now allow state officials to do business with the government and at the same time, shield individuals and their families from taxpayer accountability.

The key legislation, initiated by the Cabinet as a condition set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to combat the rampant embezzlement of public funds and to access loans, has been severely weakened by recent Senate amendments removing the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) from the oversight of the Act.

The amendments proposed by Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina, who also serves as the Senate minority whip, have significantly altered the bill, which has now been returned to the National Assembly for concurrence and transmission to the president for assent.

“I beg madam temporary chairperson Senator (Catherine) Mumma that clause 5 of the bill be amended by deleting the words ‘and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission’ appearing immediately after the words’ reporting authorities,’” proposed Ole Kina in a Hansard obtained by The Standard.

Last year, majority leader Kimani Ichung’wa, with the blessings of the Cabinet, proposed the bill to address conflicts of interest among public officers, including the president and deputy president, mandating them to disclose their wealth, income, assets, and liabilities within 30 days of appointment and every two years thereafter.

Spouses and children under 18 were also required to declare their wealth, including overseas assets, with non-compliance potentially resulting in a Sh1 million fine or two years in prison. Access to this information was restricted to authorised parties by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

Currently, wealth declarations are confidential and accessible only with speaker or court approval. The bill aimed to enhance transparency by making financial declarations mandatory within a month of appointment and upon leaving office.

The EACC would verify these for accuracy and conflicts, allowing 90 days to divest conflicting interests. It also empowered anyone to report violations to the EACC for investigation and to uncover illicit wealth.

In a tough letter to the National Assembly, obtained by The Standard, EACC CEO Twalib Mbarak said it was wrong for members of parliament to remove the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission from the administration of the Act.

“The commission has noted with concern the proposals made by the senate to review and amend the Conflict of Interest Bill 2023, being the National Assembly Bill 2023. The senate passed the bill on May 16, 2024, with proposals for substantial amendments,” Mbarak protested in the letter copied to Samuel Njoroge, the clerk of the National Assembly.

He added that the deletion of provisions on conflict of interest in other legislation was wrong and against the Constitution.

“The issues include the removal of the proposed compliance measures in the management of conflict of interest, the removal of EACC staff from the rank of deputy director and above shall be subject to the Powers and Privileges Committee of the National Assembly,” he said.