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‘Kamata kamata’ should not be put on ice, purge on corruption is working

By Kamotho Waiganjo | February 29th 2020

The effectiveness of the ongoing war on corruption has been assessed on several fronts, the most common being whether the various graft cases currently in court will result in jail sentences.  

While the jury is still out as the cases have not been completed, many have already concluded that there will be no convictions and that this war is therefore a lost cause.

While this skepticism is not without reason, I posit that it defines success too narrowly and ignores a critical component of this process; its impact in deterrence. In the history of Kenya’s anti-corruption campaigns, there has been one recurring theme in graft; impunity, the knowledge that one can get away with it.

People have always known that if you have people high up the political chain, you can escape the consequences of graft. That façade is fast disappearing. In the last two years, several Cabinet Secretaries have been hauled to court on graft allegations.

Numerous heads of parastatals are in the dock, accused of graft. Several governors, two being bosses of the largest counties, have been charged with graft and one has already been impeached.

All these are people who regularly hobnob with top political honchos. Scores of middle and low level bureaucrats have also been hauled to Court One.  

Cold water

This being Kenya, we treat the most earth-shattering events as just normal, throw cold water on them and demand more. Such arrests and prosecutions, whether successful or not, are life changing. Even where one may not be crippled financially, the shame that comes from a graft charge is immense. I have watched people wither under this weight. 

A charge alone, particularly for top level officers, is like a death sentence. The common complaint has been that there are political overtones to the graft prosecutions.

Having suffered so much, they are just happy to see some bigwig, whatever his political shade, appear in Court. But the politics of these arrests and prosecutions notwithstanding, their effect, including the drama around them, is to cause sufficient fear in officialdom of the possible consequences of malfeasance.

Consequently, only the very brave nowadays dare engage in run-away graft that has been part of Kenya’s DNA. The deterring effect of this war has been felt in several ways. Firstly in the bureaucracy. The typical tender process, through which most graft occurs, requires involvement of middle level civil servants who carry out tender evaluations, awards and eventually approve payments.

The ongoing prosecution of several tender committee members and finance officers has wakened most public servants to the personal risk associated with gaming the process. I am informed that members of such committees insist on formal memos to divert from the norm and if such is not forthcoming, they call in sick.

Nobody wants to be part a decision that may be impugned. At a more senior level, political protection is what enabled many a senior civil servant to flippantly engage in sleaze. They knew they had cover. That cover is now history. And the political bias in the ongoing prosecutions is of little comfort; even those on the correct political wing are wary, knowing that if the political winds change direction, and knowing Kenya, this can occur at any time, it would be they who would be undergoing the stress that the current political “step children” are undergoing.

So, while the failure to jail people may appear to be aborting the war, there is a seismic change in the public sector in terms of deterrence. For this reason, the kamata kamata season must not be put on ice, just the possibility that the next DPP tweet may include your name will cause one to hesitate before dipping their hand into the public funds cookie jar.

- The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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