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Agencies can’t fight graft in isolation

By | March 9th 2010

Corruption in Kenya can be traced back to the pre-independence period when the British colonial government gave out grants to purchase the White Highlands for landless squatters.

While it was the poor who were to obtain public land, an educated and elitist political class, educated abroad and descendants of the home guards, ended up benefiting from the resettlement scheme.

The then Kenyatta administration was accused of abandoning the poor in its land redistribution system. However, it is the political glitterati of that era that was able to amass wealth and sought State power to protect it.

Out of this flawed system on which the nation was founded, a breed of power politicians and unscrupulous businessmen formed into a powerful corruption network, with links to the criminal underworld as well as corridors of power.

It is this powerful axis that the Coalition Government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is up against.

When there was an opportunity to deal with this corruption network when Kanu’s 40-year reign came to an end, this window soon closed when corrupt officials who operated during the Kenyatta era formed alliances with those existing today.

Perhaps, it is this interface that has made dealing with corruption an emotional, political and personalised issue today.

The recent public display and show of might between the President and Prime Minister’s offices just goes to show how low the country has sunk in its fight against corruption.

Re-think strategies

It is not enough to send home junior public servants in the rank of Permanent Secretaries when irregularities are detected in any ministry or department in Government. To deal with impunity and abuse of public office, those entrusted with watching over public resources together with officers ‘politically’ accountable should leave public office.

Perhaps, it is also time for a re-think on strategies used to fight corruption. For instance, there are over six Acts of Parliament dealing with corruption. They include the Public Officer and Ethics Act, Anti-Money Laundering and Economic Crimes Act and Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) Act. This is in addition to a number of standing committees and advisory bodies, including a Cabinet sub-committee.

It is instructive to mention that most of these have been set up as a result of pressure from the donor community, most merely as mere window dressing.

While corruption is sealed and difficult to measure, available figures paint a grim picture for Kenya. For instance in 2008, the Corruption Perceptions Index, issued by graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Kenya 147th out of 180 countries, meaning 146 countries are supposed to be less corrupt than Kenya, and 33 countries are more corrupt. For comparison, the 180th country was Somalia whereas the first was Denmark.

A survey by KACC three years ago has some interesting findings. An estimated 68.1 per cent of those interviewed understood corruption to mean giving and taking bribes while 10.1 per cent understood corruption to mean taking bribes only.

It is important for the public to recognise that corruption is not only about kickbacks and taking bribes. It also involves tribalism and nepotism, extortion, favouritism, fraud, misuse of devolved funds, abuse of office and misuse of public resources.

Political space

While the Proposed Constitution offers a window for dealing with corruption, including management of devolved funds, devoid of Executive interference, it should also be known that the corruption monster is fed by poverty, unemployment, high cost of living, lack of morals and a culture of freebies.

Using corruption as a platform to gain mileage in the political space or playing to the gallery is definitely not the way to go.

Fixing our flawed law enforcement and punishment systems, setting up an independent and effective Judiciary and getting the political will needed — not rhetoric — could do the trick. This agenda should be everybody’s and not just for the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or foreign diplomats.

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