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Show leadership on this, Mr President

By | September 8th 2009

The Standard Comment

Our country is yet again in the throes of another needless controversy, this time centering on the President’s appointment of the Director of the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC) and two Assistants.

Being a critical pillar in the fight against corruption, KACC must be an institution beyond reproach. Yet the reality is that we are a country that is good at playing politics.

On this matter, however, we strongly urge that politics be kept at bay. The issues at stake must not only be addressed but also handled in a bipartisan manner, guided by public interest.

As a media house that has stood out boldly in defence of public interest, we find once again necessary — to urge the President to demonstrate leadership out of the present quagmire that the country finds itself in following the re-appointment of Justice Aaron Ringera as KACC Director, and Dr Smokin Wanjala and Ms Fatuma Sichale as Assistant Directors.

At stake are three critical institutions, whose very integrity, credibility and confidence are being brought to question.

First, the mere fact that doubt and aspersion has been cast in the manner in which the institution of the presidency exercised its powers in the re-appointments — that it is not consistent with the spirit of The Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act 2003 — is sufficient reason to reconsider this matter.

We reiterate, however, that the need to reconsider the reappointments will not in any way be admitting failure, since matters of public interest in a political democracy such as ours must be seen to be consistent with the mood of the country.

Indeed, the presidency must not only listen to the people; it must align itself with the public interest when that dictate becomes apparent.

In thriving democracies the world over, the sensitivity of the government to public interest is an overriding factor, and ours must never be an exception.

This, Mr President, is the case. The country is infuriated; Parliament itself is outraged and is seeking to assert its powers; donors are expressing displeasure and threatening to turn off the taps of resources at a most challenging time for the country.

Graft Watchdog

To be sure, the credibility and confidence in the institution of the presidency is being called to question on a matter, we believe, can still be handled in a manner that enhances and safeguards the office of the President.

Secondly, KACC as an institution charged with fighting corruption can ill-afford to be seen in a controversy that undermines its mandate and erodes the public’s trust. This is because if not stemmed, it would lead to waning confidence and dwindling support of critical stakeholders.

It matters little that the Director or Assistant Directors have been re-appointed. We hasten to add, we have nothing against the individuals involved, but everything against the flawed process of their reappointment.

We hold that individuals’ interests must always be secondary to overriding interests of institutions and the nation at large.

In fact, the President’s advisers should have envisioned — and avoided — this kind of situation that he now finds himself in. Now that this has happened, the unpopularity of the unprocedural nature of their appointments must now inform their next course of action. The dictates of their consciences should invariably nudge them to decline the positions, as their assuming the positions in the current environment will not engender public confidence, thereby undermining the important national cause of fighting corruption.

As for KACC’s Advisory Board, we urge it to exercise its mandate as envisaged in law without fear or favour as this is the least Kenyans expect of them, notwithstanding pressure they must be under from vested interests.

Third, Parliament as a critical pillar of democracy must seek to redeem its perceived failure to exercise the mandate of vetting and approving the KACC Director and Assistant Directors.

Further, the House must defend its rightful place and resist this being torpedoed by the actions and excesses of the Executive. On this matter, Parliament stands as the last bastion of hope in curtailing the meddling in critical public institutions.

Legislature’s Role

It was for this reason that Parliament’s role in appointments to public institutions is considered critical. The precedent that was set with the reappointment of two Assistant Directors — John Mutonyi and Wilson Shollei — should be sufficient to inform the Executive that Ringera, Wanjala and Sichale must, of necessity, be subjected to the same process.

Our country faces many challenges. It is unfortunate that an issue that can be addressed by simply ensuring compliance with the law is distracting the Government’s focus on these matters.

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