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To end corruption, Uhuru should ban harambees by State officials

By Makau Mutua | December 2nd 2018

It may be illegal for public officers, civil servants, and MPs to corrupt the public through harambees. If so, no one ever got the memo. Every day – and twice on Sundays – political mandarins traverse the breadth and width of Kenya littering millions of shillings in public rallies everywhere. This blatant show of corruption – done in broad daylight and without shame, or irony – is the grist of the mill of Kenyan politics.

The biggest culprits are those gunning for the presidency in 2022.  Which begs the question – where do public servants whose salaries are known get all these gobs of money to bamboozle and bewilder hapless citizens? I know this – Kenya must banharambees for the anti-corruption fight to succeed.

Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta has put his foot down on corruption. He’s publicly said he’s lost tons of friends over the fight. He’s also said no one will be spared. If so, then he will have to wield the axe against the highest public officials in the land.  The presidency, as he himself once said, is teeming with corrupt barracudas.

He cannot look the other way. He must look corruption in eye and exorcise it from his government. Except for the lords of graft – who are quaking in their boots – the country is fully behind him. Nothing he’s done since he became Kenya’s CEO has so united Kenyans. He cannot relent, or wilt. He must go all the way.

A reading of Kenya’s anti-corruption, leadership, and ethics laws is clear that most aspects of the harambee practice are illegal, especially when perpetrated by certain classes of public officials. Yet the highest officials in the land – most notably Jubilee’s William Ruto – are notorious at handing out obscene amounts of cash.

I don’t know where Mr Ruto, or any other public official, gets the millions they dole out every week. It could all be legal cash. But we don’t know. At the very least, the giveaways raise credible suspicions in the minds of reasonable people. That’s why a lifestyle audit is necessary to establish where public officials derive their wealth. Methinks Ruto’s salary can’t be the source of the cash.

But Ruto isn’t alone in this “giving” spree. He may be the most conspicuous – and the most “generous” donor – but he has lots of company. What we need is accountability and transparency about the giving. But – and this should be unarguable – we must ban the dastardly practice. Let me tell you why. Harambees – understood as loot “given” to citizens by public officials – is a moral hazard for the giver and the receiver. It’s essentially a bribe. Both the bribe giver and bribe taker are equally guilty. Secondly, “development” – if that’s what the “donations” are meant for – shouldn’t depend on the “charity” of public officials. It turns citizens into beggars and supplicants to political wolves. It retards development.

Kindness of hearts

I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t stop “generous” and “prosperous” public officials from showering the people with largesse from the kindness of their hearts. I have never heard of a successful businessperson who goes round the country every weekend dropping “free” millions on citizens.

If there’s such a businessperson, he should’ve gone broke years ago. Or he’s the dumbest person alive. That’s why I suspect the money being splashed around doesn’t actually “belong” to the people giving it out. You’ve heard the phrase “easy come, easy go.” Methinks we are being bribed with taxpayer shillings. Are we that dumb? If I am right, how can Mr Kenyatta expect his anti-corruption putsch to succeed in the face of such sleaze?

The public must not be complicit in this corrupt charade disguised as “development.” Monies for development shouldcome from the central government, counties, private investors, or foreign partners. No public servant should have so much money that he can simply give it away. I am not saying poor villagers or struggling citizens can’t get together for a fundraiser for a funeral, a wedding, or some other innocent purpose. But such an exercise doesn’t need donations of millions from the most powerful people in the state. We shouldban this type of graft from public life.  Nor should citizens encourage it. At the next rally, ask the public official to explain the source of his large donation.

Some people will cry I am making these arguments to target Ruto. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ruto, like any other eligible Kenyan, is free to campaign for the presidency. That’s his birthright. But he and others must do so without further corrupting our moral fiber and public life. That’s why Kenyatta must ban harambees by public officials pronto. Public officials who donate obscene amounts must be arrested on suspicion of corruption.

- The writer is SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC.  @makaumutua.

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