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State must commit to recover stolen funds

By | November 28th 2011

Last week the Otiende Amollo-led new outfit, the Commission on Administration of Justice took charge of the public complaints body — formerly Public Complaints Standing Committee (PCSC) or Ombudsman.

The team says the new Constitution gives it powers to issue summons and even hold stolen assets, in what ignites an old debate whether the Government is serious to recover stolen public resources that are stashed in foreign accounts.

To date, nobody has ever been prosecuted over funds siphoned out of the country. It is estimated that close to Sh700 billion obtained through corruption, money laundering and other criminal activities has been hidden abroad.

The move to allow the Ombudsman to investigate, issue summons and even hold or dispose of property acquired illegally is welcome but it has be backed by action and not ‘lip service’.

The body, created in 2007 by a legal notice to receive and address public complaints, PCSC had restricted functions and only submitted recommendations to the President by means of quarterly reports. Now, its mandate is engrained in the new Constitution.

Kroll Associates report

Besides checking administration malpractices and integrity in public offices, it has powers to take offenders to court.

The commission has to move swiftly to investigate and ensure that no State official is involved in corrupt activities.

The body’s duties will include investigating complaints of abuse of power, unfair treatment, injustices and oppressive or unresponsive conduct within the public sector. And the military, which has over the years enjoyed special treatment, will for the first time be subjected to scrutiny.

The Ombudsman, must work with other anti-corruption agencies such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, which replaced the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.

In 2003, when President Kibaki took over government he promised to recover assets moved to foreign countries. He went ahead to commission Kroll Associates to investigate how much that had been siphoned out of Kenya by top officials of previous regimes.

The report found out that at least Sh90 billion ($1 billion) had been stashed abroad. However, eight years later, the report has never been acted upon and no penny has been recovered.

Most of the money looted between 1990 and 1995 was spirited to British, European and Canadian banks by powerful politicians and businessmen.

It is also widely believed that the proceeds of the Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing scandals have found safe passage abroad, mainly in Western banks.

Kenya has often decried lack of assistance from developed nations, which have hosted the plundered assets and are consequently, profiting from corruption.

John Githongo, who resigned and went into exile, at one time revealed recordings he made of senior officials who wanted him to go slow on the fight on corruption. Aaron Ringera was viewed as an underachiever in the fight against graft and Patrick Lumumba who was appointed to replace him, recently was shown the door when KACC was scrapped.

However, countries such as UK and US have in the past committed to assist Kenya to recover the assets or money. The Government must show willingness to take up this seriously.

The recent case in point is the naming of Nambale MP Chris Okemo and former parastatal chief Samuel Gichuru on corruption charges in which the UK is pushing for their extradition.

Mobutu Sese Seko

The two are accused of taking bribes amounting to Sh900 million from foreign businesses that had contracts with KPLC.

Gichuru was the KPLC boss between 1983 and 2003 and it was during his tenure that the company was partially privatised. Okemo, currently the chairman of the parliamentary Finance committee, was the Energy minister from 1999 to 2001 and Finance minister from 2001 to 2003.

Last year the Obama administration announced the launch of the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative to seize, and repatriate money stolen from African public coffers that could be hidden in the US.

Other African countries have tried to recover money stolen by previous leaders. Congo came up virtually empty in its attempt to recover money stolen by Mobutu Sese Seko, the man who was chased out by rebels in 1997, and Nigeria is still trying to get its hands on huge sums stashed away in foreign accounts by Sani Abacha, a military ruler who died in 1998.Across Africa, other governments are engaged in similar frustrating efforts.

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