MPs asked to expedite Bill seeking to address conflict of interest among public officers

EACC chief executive Twalib Mbarak, commission chairman David Oginde, Principal Secretary for Performance Management and Delivery Services in the Office of Prime Cabinet Secretary Anne Wang'ombe, and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi during the launch of EACC’s five-year strategic plan 2023-2028 at Kenyatta International Conference Convention on Tuesday September 26, 2023. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi has called on the National Assembly to fast-track the passing Conflict of Interest Bill, 2023, which he said would boost the fight against corruption if it becomes law.

"There is one particular area which has a significant impact on corruption that I am requesting the National Assembly to look into; this is the Conflict of Interest Bill, 2023. The Bill was approved by the Cabinet on February 28, 2023, and subsequently transmitted to the August House," Mudavadi said in Nairobi on Tuesday when he presided over the launch of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) strategic plan for 2023-2028.

The Bill seeks to provide a framework for the management of conflict of interest on the part of State and public officers arising from the discharge of their official duties.

It introduces strong legal safeguards against real, apparent, or potential conflict between the private interests of public servants on the one hand, and the public interest and their official duties on the other.

Once enacted into law, it would ensure public servants do not subordinate their official duties to their private and commercial interests.

Those who fail to declare a conflict of interest will face a fine of up to Sh5 million. Similarly, an MP or MCA who is found guilty of using information obtained by virtue of his position to advance their private interests could also be imprisoned or fined.

The bill says a public officer is in a conflict of interest if the officer: exercises an officer's power, duty, or function to further his private interests or the private interests of another person or his family, relative, or associate.

Clause 23 (3) of the bill forbids a public officer from engaging in any other gainful employment without permission from the reporting authority and the graft agency – EACC.

“A public officer shall not engage in any other gainful employment which is inherently incompatible with the official duties of the officer, results in a conflict of interest or the public officer is mandated to regulate,” it reads.

Government services

According to the bill, a public officer is a person who renders government services, whether appointed or elected, full-time or part-time, permanent or temporary and includes a state officer, employee, consultant, or volunteer. This definition also includes medical professionals.

Conflict of interest is in a situation where the private interests of the public officer can reasonably be perceived to impair or influence the public officer’s ability to act objectively in the performance of an official duty; or has private interests that could conflict with the duties of the public officer in future.

The bill continues to say a public officer shall disclose in writing to the reporting authority any offer of outside employment that could place the officer in a situation of conflict of interest within seven days of receiving the offer.

Should the Bill be enacted, it will follow a move attempt to seal corruption loopholes in South Africa, which enacted the Revised Code of Conduct that came into effect on August 1, 2016.

South Africa's Code prohibits public servants from doing business with the State as individuals or through companies in which they are directors.

Some of the proposals include a temporary vacation of office for a public officer under investigation for contraventions of the provisions of the Conflict of Interest Bill.

Homabay Town MP Peter Kaluma at parliament in Nairobi on August 30, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

"The Bill has undergone its First Reading before the National Assembly and is in the pipeline for the Second Reading. I request that the House fast-tracks this," Mudavadi said during the launch of EACC's five-year strategic plan themed; "An Integrity and Values-driven Kenyan Society".

Mudavadi also requested the withdrawal of two Bills currently before the National Assembly, which he turned retrogressive and raised significant concerns in the ongoing battle against corruption.

The Bills are the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Amendment Bill, 2023, sponsored by Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma, and the other one that seeks amendments to it presented by Mbeere North MP Geoffrey Ruku.

"These Bills, if passed and enacted into law, have the potential of reversing the progress achieved in the fight against corruption," said Mudavadi during the event attended by EACC chairman David Oginde and the commission's CEO Twalib Mbarak, among others.

Individuals convicted 

Kaluma's Bill seeks to amend the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act of 2003 by removing the provision disqualifying individuals convicted of corruption or economic crimes from holding public office.

Meanwhile, Ruku's seeks to decriminalise certain aspects of public procurement, property disposal, contract tendering, fund management, and expenditure.

"If these proposed amendments are accepted, they will open the door for individuals with corruption histories to hold public office, and offer significant leniency to those inclined toward corrupt practices within the public sector," said Mudavadi.

He added: "This is not to say I do not respect the independence of our government's branches.  I recognise the substantial interdependence among them. Therefore, I kindly request the two MPs to consider withdrawing their bills."