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President wrong to blame institutions for runaway graft

BILLOW KERROW
By Billow Kerrow | October 23rd 2016

Well, the President is at it again. Complaining about corruption. He complained of massive corruption in his office in 2014. He did it in a foreign country, Israel, in February this year, accusing Kenyans of being ‘expert thieves’ who are good at ‘complaining’. He warned that corruption was now a threat to our national security. This week, he did it again, in a public forum, complaining and blaming it all on the independent watchdog institutions!

The President’s spat with these officials was misplaced, and lacking foresight. These institutions are mandated in law to enhance accountability, and are independent of the Executive; but more importantly, he ought to cultivate their support and confidence. Berating them in public, and telling them off on their approach to their duty has the opposite effect. He rightly praises his security forces always in public, whatever the circumstances; even when they talk of ‘burning mattresses’! Similarly, he ought to stand with these institutions however critical they may be of his administration.

First, it is the President who runs the Executive where corruption is rampant, and the buck stops with him in raising the bar on accountability. Corruption is also about perception. His office has come out in defence of graft allegations against the Executive in the past, indirectly protecting them. In Parliament, his party machinery too has thrown out reports implicating public ministries and institutions in corruption, in pursuit of political expediency. These actions are inimical to his avowed war on corruption.

The President’s statement that the watchdog institutions are properly funded is also misleading. The Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission operates on a lean budget of Sh2.7 billion, against their request for at least three times that amount in recent years. In public reports to Parliament that are also shared with his office, the agency has indicated that it is short of 500 detectives and lacks state-of-the-art surveillance equipment to escalate its programme. It gets nearly 20,000 reports of corruption annually but can investigate only a handful for lack of capacity. Moreover, they have to live with inordinate interference by the Executive, often blatant and in the public domain.

The Kenya National Audit Office equally suffers serious lack of staff and equipment due to grossly inadequate funding. This institution gets Sh3.5 billion to audit the national government, all public institutions and state corporations, and the 47 county governments. Before devolution, their budget was Sh2.5 billion; in three years, they got an additional Sh1 billion only to cover 47 new governments. Consequently, the Auditor General is years behind schedule in submitting audited accounts to Parliament. And when he submits his reports, he has been bashed by the Executive ad nauseum. The ruling party apparatchik in Parliament then moved to berate him, and whittle his statutory powers. His reports gather dust on the shelves.

The President has previously blamed Parliament for subjecting his policies and programmes to unnecessary scrutiny though he knows that it is their mandate. He has in the past criticised them on their scrutiny of the Standard Gauge Railway, laptops, Eurobond and others. Parliament is today emasculated and largely serves to rubberstamp his administration’s wishes. If he is serious on graft war, he should Parliament be!

However, the President is right on the courts. They support the vice to the hilt, and hide behind the legal jargon. Our courts have the guts to injunct even Parliament and County Assemblies to scuttle impeachments and legislation, ostensibly to protect fundamental rights. Give us a break! Where is separation of powers? Wait until the law is enacted, or impeachment done and nullify it later if it is challenged on due process and its constitutionality. Nonetheless, accusing Chief Justice of activism and keeping him away is not a solution for the President. He must engage!

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