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War against graft void without real political goodwill

COMMENTARY
By Philip Gichana and Kevin Mabonga | December 2nd 2018

In the recent past, President Uhuru Kenyatta has come out strongly in the war against corruption. He has called on Kenyans to support government’s efforts to fight graft. The actions he has taken point to this bold and vocal President, committed to combating the vice. This has been done through Executive Orders and declarations, change of leadership at law enforcement and prosecution agencies and reaching out to his political challengers.

According to the communique on the Building Bridges initiative, “corruption is an existential threat to our Kenya. It is destroying lives, public trust and prosperity. It is being passed to the young generation, making a mockery of their hopes and their need to forge an honest and proud living. It is undermining our public and private institutions, and will destroy them and our aspirations as a nation.” 

Fast forward, we have seen high profile arrests and prosecutions being made, demolitions of buildings sitting on riparian and public lands and in a very unprecedented and bold move, the arrest of senior officials in the national and county governments. Also to note is the actualisation of police reforms that aim to improve service delivery in the police service.

Political leadership and commitment to fighting corruption at the highest levels is one of the most important precondition for success in the fight. Identifying political will to fight corruption is not always straightforward; the anti-corruption rhetoric has been used to defuse opposition and bolster support.

Graft campaigns

Some politicians publicise allegations and evidence of corruption in an effort to demonstrate opponents and former administrations’ hypocrisies and their own virtue. In extreme cases, they use anti-corruption campaigns to get rid of their opponents. As such, the campaigns are mere tactical responses to political challenges, rather than sincere attempts at reform.

It is therefore imperative to assess initiatives that are intentionally superficial and those that are serious in light of recent events. The first indicator to check would be the source of the impetus behind an anti-corruption policy or programme. Decision-makers need to drive the agenda as they are assumed to perceive graft as a salient issue and are willing to champion efforts to fight it. Political will is suspect when the push comes from external forces like development partners and envoys.

It is equally important to critically assess the efforts put into identifying the choice of policy. This would entail determining whether the administration has understood the context and causes of corruption. An administration needs to recognise the complexities that give rise to aberrant behavior. It needs to identify and develop measures to deal with those institutions, mandates, and behaviors that either impede or promote integrity in government.

Sector-wide consultations and mobilisation of stakeholder could be an indication of political will. Leadership is crucial to the policymaking phase though shared ownership is equally essential in ensuring sustainability. Effective implementation requires educated public officers responsible for enforcing or adopting the desired reforms. It also hinges on the support of citizens.

To demonstrate political goodwill, decision-makers are required to reveal their policy preferences publicly and assign requisite resources to achieve those policy goals. Failure to allocate resources is an easy way for regimes to enjoy the appearance of fighting corruption without doing anything. Regimes are fond of establishing new procedures and offices without providing adequate funding for them to function properly. Other signs of political goodwill are prevention, education, sanctions and tracking anti-corruption progress.

To sustain political goodwill, the government needs public officials who are committed to the principles of public service and financial management. There should be practical measures towards controlling, preventing, and exposing waste, fraud, and abuse of office in service delivery. Coupled with the willingness of citizens and non-state actors to tackle corruption, engage in whistleblowing, voicing concerns and to bring pressure on public officials, the efforts will be a shot in the arm in war against graft.

- Gichana is an advocate of the High Court while Mabonga is a communications practitioner

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