Public will rally behind Ruto if he steps up war against graft

President William Ruto in the compoany of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi arrive for Kenya Kwanza's Parliamentary Group Meeting at State House, Nairobi. [PCS]

President William Ruto's crackdown on corruption last week came out of left field. It surprised both friend and foe. Expectations of Kenyans, used to political promises lyrically waxed and never lived up to, have hitherto been low. The last administration was typical; like a loud Texan rancher, all hat and no cattle!

But coming less than a year after the swearing in of the Ruto administration, the crackdown on grand corruption, whilst welcome, casts a spotlight on the concept of "shareholders of the government."

It reveals the trouble of using extraneous considerations to appoint people to critical positions. The president's chief economic advisor David Ndii talks of the necessity of such considerations saying, "they are crucial to building political capital."

Perhaps the biggest proponent of the shareholder concept is Deputy President (DP) Rigathi Gachagua. He has previously said the "government is a shares company. It has the owners who have majority shares, those with minority shares and those that don't have any shares." His statement has been interpreted to mean those who didn't vote for the Kenya Kwanza administration have no stake in the government.

But herein lies the danger seen in two scenarios; that in public appointments, competent people are possibly passed over for less deserving characters on account of party affiliation or lack thereof. Or competent characters, out of a sense of entitlement on account of party fealty, resort to malfeasance knowing they are untouchable.

Apropos of the first scenario, the president sacked the entire board of the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) last week. The Public Health Principal Secretary (PS) was also sent packing even as the State agency's CEO was suspended. This was following a botched tender worth Sh3.7 billion for the supply of treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria in low-income households.

With reference to the second scenario, the president has suspended 27 officers from the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Police Service. This is after a consignment of sugar that had been declared unfit for human consumption was apparently illegally intercepted and sold to the unsuspecting public instead of being destroyed. Media reports say, "two members of Parliament and two top government officials have orchestrated the release of the condemned consignment in what appears to have been a well-orchestrated syndicate to enrich a few individuals without a care about the damage this 'poison' would cause to the health of Kenyans."

Talk of "shareholders" has the potential of causing disaffection in a good section of Kenyans who did not vote for the Kenya Kwanza administration in the last national elections. It creates an unhealthy "us versus them" perception; that those in power hog all the opportunities at the national feeding trough at the expense of others. For far too long, this is what has fed the unhealthy obsession with the presidency.

But every misdeed by public officers or political gaffe presents an opportunity for the president. Just as he has moved adroitly to replace suspected errant officials at Kemsa, he should do the same in all other areas where leaders fall short. And having kept his pre-election pacts by rewarding his support base, he can now prune away those who don't live up to expectation without expending the political capital accrued. For instance, career diplomats ought to be considered for sensitive dockets whose current office holders have subjected the government to public opprobrium.

The president has fired a warning shot across the bow of his support base. He has said, "corrupting public resources is a no-go zone." Should he continue in the same trajectory, taking resolute action against reprobates, there will be no political backlash. Instead, he will earn the approbation of a grateful nation wearied by years of public graft seemingly condoned, if not sanctioned, by occupants of high offices.

Somebody should tell Mr Gachagua that overcoming Kenya's financial and economic woes will require the concerted effort of every Kenyan. Talk of shareholders is inimical to such effort.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst