Kenya’s much publicised war on corruption has, over the years, taken a backlash. What started with firm resolve of ridding the country of graft elements has instead received mixed reviews, punctuated by both claims of witch-hunt and political victimisation, as well as acknowledgement of some marked progress.
High value arrests and raids by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) in the graft war, which at one point seemed to be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy project, have reduced, as the Executive shifts focus to other matters of political significance such as the Building Bridges Initiative.
But behind the scenes, there has been progress, and EACC boss Twalib Mbarak, in an interview with The Standard, insists that the war on corruption is still very much on course.
“The argument about political interference is often advanced by a few corrupt elements,” says Mbarak.
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“They use it as a yardstick to defend themselves whenever called upon to account for their acts or omissions. I confirm to Kenyans that the EACC remains committed to its mandate and shall always apply the law with utmost fidelity to the Constitution,” Mr Mbarak told The Standard.
The anti-graft czar said the cases against former governors Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu) and Mike Sonko (Nairobi) that precipitated their being kicked out of office showed that the commission was working and was not under the direction of anybody.
Mr Sonko and Mr Waititu have cried foul over their removal from office, claiming it was orchestrated by the State through EACC that charged them with graft before they were impeached.
Mbarak says EACC, in close collaboration with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, investigated and charged Tharaka Nithi, Busia, Migori, Garissa, Samburu, Nairobi and Kiambu governors with corruption and related offences.
Mbarak also talks of securing the conviction of high-profile personalities like Sirisia MP John Waluke for fraudulent acquisition of approximately Sh300 million.
The MP, who is presently out on bail, was convicted to 67 years imprisonment or a fine of Sh1 billion.
Mbarak also made reference to the case of former Kasarani MP John Njoroge, who was convicted for soliciting a bribe and sentenced to one year or a fine of Sh1.3 million, and that of former Kenya Reinsurance Corporation Director, John Githaka, convicted for fraudulent acquisition of public property worth Sh7.2 million.
Mbarak said Mr Githaka was sentenced to one-year imprisonment and a mandatory fine of Sh14.4 million, double the amount he illegally acquired.
He said during the last two years in office, EACC finalised investigation of more than 200 high impact files and forwarded reports to the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji for action.
According to Mbarak, some of these cases are inquiry into allegations of corruption in the award of tender for the construction of a multi-storey block by Kenyan Maritime Authority, involving Sh1.8 billion.
Others are inquiries into allegations that officials of the Ministry of Agriculture irregularly authorised withdrawal of Sh1.8 billion from the bank account of the Strategic Food Reserve Trust Fund; illegal and unexplained wealth against an accountant at the Interior Ministry involving Sh100 million; and illegal and unexplained wealth against a senior valuer at the National Land Commission, involving Sh18 million.
The CEO said they had several criminal and civil litigations pending determination before various courts countrywide.
For instance, he said: “We have more than 357 cases pending in various courts in the country seeking to recover public assets valued at approximately Sh8.6 billion.”
He added: “We also have other active suits seeking forfeiture of approximately Sh2.5 billion from public officers found to own assets disproportionate to their known legitimate sources of income.”
“It is our desire to see these cases finalised for justice to be served to the people of Kenya. We are working closely with all actors in the justice sector to realise this desire,” he said.
In terms of asset tracing and recovery, the commission boss said they had recovered assets worth approximately Sh20 billion in the last five years.
Some of the notable assets recovered in the last two years, according to Mbarak, are the various parcels (1,800 acres) belonging to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in Naivasha valued at approximately Sh8.7 billion.
Also recovered are the Meteorological land situated in Industrial Area along Mombasa Road, valued at approximately Sh5 billion; University of Nairobi land situated in Kilimani, Nairobi, and valued at approximately Sh2 billion; and 52 properties situated in Woodley Estate valued at approximately Sh1 billion.
The commission has further recovered public land situated along Bishops Road, Nairobi, belonging to Kenya School of Law, and which is valued at Sh700 million. Others are parcels within Kisumu Municipality belonging to Kenya Railways, and valued at approximately Sh550 million, and land allocated to Racecourse Primary School valued at approximately Sh700 million.
Mbarak told The Standard the evidence and findings of their investigation was subjected to an independent review by the Office of the DPP to ensure sufficiency of the evidence and also act as a safeguard against external interference.
The commission has in the past come under sharp criticism from politicians who have been grilled or charged with graft-related cases, accusing it of selective persecution.
Governors, MPs and other top public officers facing graft charges attributed their woes to the institution.
“The truth of the matter is that the perception of the public is slowly but certainly changing to the affirmative.
“This is corroborated by the high number of corruption and related complaints that we continue to receive. In fact, we receive an average of 3,500 complaints per year. This would not happen where there is lack of confidence in the institution,” said Mbarak.
Over the years, the commission has itself been accused of being part of the problem, as corrupt officers trade with the information at their disposal for personal gain. The commission, too, has been accused as being a weak link in the war against graft.
However, in 2020 alone, the commission says through its proactive covert investigations it averted a possible loss of public funds estimated at Sh787 million.
Mbarak revisited the incident in 2015 where EACC was in a spot after President Uhuru Kenyatta tabled its list of 175 State and public officials under investigation during his State of the Nation address in Parliament, and asked those named to step aside. They included 10 governors, all who declined.
“The president has personally made it clear that those who are entrusted with public office must be efficient and discharge their duties with responsibility, transparency and accountability,” said the retired major.
He disclosed that the support by the President had created a conducive environment for law enforcement agencies to independently discharge their mandate.
“The EACC enjoys a cordial relationship and continues to receive support from the Executive and all arms of government,” he affirmed.
Mbarak said the relationship between his office and the State was best seen through resource allocation, accountability to Kenyans through Parliament and collaboration and partnerships with State and non-state actors.
But in regards to allegations that the dramatic arrests of high-profile leaders is a scheme to cause public embarrassment, Mbarak argued that the accusations are misinformed.
“The output of our mandate is quite measurable and open. One can easily obtain the records of our progress in terms of the number of investigations conducted, persons charged, persons convicted, assets recovered and corruption networks disrupted among others.
“I am certain and clear that we have made great strides. My appeal to Kenyans is to embrace confidence and patience with their institutions. The justice wheel sometimes takes time, but when it stops people are able to see the results,” he said.