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Leaders’ impressive past history is no antidote to their present impunity

By | July 11th 2010

By Gakuu Mathenge

The conviction of former South African police commissioner, Mr Jackie Selebi, last week and endorsement by Parliament of Patrick Lumumba to succeed Justice Aaron Ringera as director of Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission should get Kenyans thinking.

Selebi was convicted last week of corruption charges by a South African court. Evidence tabled against him included sharing classified police intelligence with a convicted criminal in exchange for shopping favours for himself, his children, wife and mistresses!

If approved by President Kibaki, PLO will get the job to unmask and nail Kenya’s Selebis.

Betrayal and a sinking feeling of despair is the natural reaction about Selebi’s conduct, given his dazzling profile and public service CV: a former teacher, anti-apartheid veteran, former president of Interpol, former MP in South African Parliament, and, above all, former South African envoy to the United Nations, Geneva.

The UN is commonly expected to be the standard bearer in best practices in public service, the reason why ordinary mortals hold ex-UN civil servants in awe.

We listen when they speak.

But then, Attorney General Amos Titswila Wako, is a former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, former President of East African Law Society, former chairman, Association of Professional Societies of East Africa, among other titles.

Yet two decades’ tenure as AG does not seem destined for an impressive legacy.

As director of public prosecutions, he has presided over depressing events, all the while smiling his way to the bank to collect a fat salary month after month.

Goldenberg and Anglo Leasing, mass murder of citizens in ethnic violence, brazen subversion of civic processes, including elections, political assassinations, extra-judicial killings and disappearances, have happened during his tenure, with no resolution to date.

KACC was created to do what the AG’s office failed to do: Investigate and prosecute economic crimes and abuse of office.

Parliament’s endorsement of PLO to succeed Ringera raises the question: Can Kenyans expect a different legacy from PLO than they had from Wako, and South Africans from Selebi?

Only PLO can answer that.

The Judiciary has set the precedent in self-absolution and cleansing, in their speedy dispensation of election petitions, with an eye to the anticipated vetting if the draft constitution passes.

They have taken a cue from Marcus Tallius Cicero, a famed Roman prosecutor.

While prosecuting a crooked governor of Sicily before a suspect jury, Cicero, addressed the question of legacy and impunity in public office thus:

"Gentlemen of the court, a belief has become established, as harmful to the republic as it is to yourselves, that these courts, with your senators as the jury, will never convict any man, however guilty, if he has enough money.

"But the character of the man I am prosecuting is such that you may use him to restore your own good name. Gaius Verres has robbed the Treasury and behaved like a pirate and a destroying pestilence in his province of Sicily. You have only to find this man guilty, and respect in you will be rightly restored. But if you do not, if his immense wealth is sufficient to shatter your honesty, well then, I shall achieve one thing at least. The nation will not believe Verres to be right and me wrong, but they will certainly know all they need to know about a jury of Roman Senators!"

Verres was convicted.

The legacy, not sparkling CVs, is what counts.

Mathenge is a writer with The Standard.

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