Don’t turn integrity vetting into a charade

An IEBC agent counting votes during the Juja by-election, May 2021. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

It is likely that the integrity vetting of aspirants in this election will be a box-ticking affair. What should preserve sanctity of public office has seemingly become an artless act performed only to fulfil legal and bureaucratic electoral requirements.

As we head to the polls, some home truths have to be told on this process – its efficacy, application and what the future portends for public offices in the wake of emergent deviations. 

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) is warning that aspirants with questionable integrity could end up on the ballot because of lack of funds to do credible integrity checks.

EACC officials told a parliamentary committee last week that the agency has only Sh154 million left and badly needs Sh360 million more, without which it could submit “shallow” background reports to Wafula Chebukati and his polls commission.

The anti-graft agency also cries that even if it burns the midnight oil to expose damning information, not much is done to bar the flagged aspirants from contesting and, it can’t do anything. And again, many felons continue to serve even after being indicted.  

The questions on the lips of those who care about Kenya’s democratic potency is why vetting would take place if the system gives elements with questionable and immoral inclinations a through-pass into plum public jobs. 

There are yawning legal loopholes around vetting. And building on the premise of innocent until proven guilty, it has become more and more frustrating, in the words of EACC officials, to try and insulate Kenyans from being led by schemers and crooks. The irony, however, is that voters defend them that this is our “our man.”  

Many aspirants thrive on bad behaviour. Violence, bribery and use of fake academic papers have been reported innumerable times. We’ve seen frontrunners dishing out handouts and known convicts changing names, contesting and winning seats.

In self-declaration forms, aspirants are asked to state if they have ever been accused of graft, failed to declare their wealth, abused their offices, been convicted or dismissed from office on account of integrity. But how many, for instance, have declared their worth?

If corruption risk and suitability for office vetting can’t hurt a fly, then the requirement is null and void. It has to be brushed up. If not, blatant deviations from what the law expects of a leader will expose us to risky influences and fatal outcomes.

While Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji is happy with corruption conviction rates, integrity levels remain at an all-time low. According to the DPP, conviction rate rose from 47 per cent in 2018 to 69 per cent in 2020, and was at 64 per cent last year.

Chapter 6 of the Constitution is sacrosanct. A politician who tinkers with it or tries to circumvent it belongs to prison. The EACC, DPP, the police, the Judiciary, DCI and all organs should restore integrity in public service. It doesn’t matter what it takes!

Let’s borrow from success stories in Europe and elsewhere where integrity vetting is ruthless but still upholds every aspirant’s fundamental rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. No, we can’t afford to trivialise this vital requirement.

-The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo