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President Uhuru Kenyatta must stem corruption in public service

By Ken Opalo | June 27th 2015

If ever we were unsure, this week we learned that we are not serious about fighting corruption. First there was the farcical IFMIS scandal in the Ministry of Devolution.

Apparently, some people conspired to steal more than Sh800 million from the government. Then there was the Mumias Sugar Company saga. Here the government agreed to bail out the company, offering Sh1 billion.

Now think about this for a second. The Government nearly lost (or may have already lost) Sh800 million on corrupt deals at the Ministry of Devolution. It takes a lot to pull off this kind of heist. Fake companies were registered (some even retroactively). Fake contracts were conjured up. Fake services were delivered. To pull off this kind of heist several officers in procurement and the accounts department must be on board. And they were. It took the intervention of one officer in the chain for this to become public.

So who were these officers willing to look the other way? Who were the owners of the companies involved? And since the IFMIS system has almost certainly left a digital trail of those involved (unless servers disappear or get burned), why hasn’t anyone been arrested yet? Why is the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution, Anne Waiguru, still in office? This happened under her watch. And the buck stops at her desk.

Still on matters corruption, this week the President presented Sh1 billion cheque to Mumias Sugar. The miller has in the recent past been struggling in the face of a dual onslaught of inept managers and illegal importation of sugar that is then rebranded in the company’ s name. Senior government officials are involved, or knew about both schemes. Again, it is no mystery who the managers who drove Mumias aground are. We know their names. We know what they own. Yet the most we got from the President is a call for their arrest and prosecution. Has the President given evidence to the Director of Public Prosecution

The bailout of Mumias, when you think about it was a government transfer from millions of wananchi who pay taxes to the few fat cats who bled the company dry.

Now here is a suggestion to the President. It appears that our government is not serious about corruption for political reasons. As I have written on these pages before, the fight against corruption is an inherently political one. And because the President is a political animal, and wants to be re-elected in 2017, he may not necessarily have the requisite political independence to root out the vice from our government (I personally think he does, if he chooses to involve wananchi in a populist cause). All he can do now is contain the vice.

Here, he can glean some advice from academic research that shows that decentralised corruption is more pernicious than centralised corruption. Take the example of Mumias. There is an alternative world in which the company was run efficiently and all the managers did was steal the profits. Not the operating capital, but the profit. In that world, farmers and suppliers of the company would still be in business. And all we would have is a parastatal that barely breaks even. Now this kind of corruption would require the President or minister in charge of state corporations to be in charge. And to ensure corruption happens at the right stage of the entire process. The same applies to corruption at institutions like the NYS.

What if the government created companies that provided the services that the Ministry of Devolution allegedly bought from dubious companies? These companies would then deliver services to wananchi for a small fee. If run efficiently, the CS in charge would then be given a “bonus” by being allowed to skim off the appropriations in aid surplus in these state owned enterprises. Again, services would be delivered to wananchi, and corruption would happen at the right stage.

Let us be honest. The President is either serious about fighting corruption or he is not. His entire Cabinet, including the Deputy President’s Weston Hotel saga, is riddled with corruption allegations.

he sheer magnitude of political exposure means that unless he expressly fires these people (some of whom he can’t as per the Constitution) the needle will not move on the fight against grand corruption in the public service. Given this political reality, the best course of action might be to contain corruption by recentralising it. We know we are not governed by a government of angels, but one of men and women. Let’s accept that fact and seek to find ways to make government more efficient.

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