Uhuru: Pandora papers to usher in era of transparency on wealth

President Uhuru Kenyatta. [PSCU]

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday responded to an explosive exposé by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Less than 24 hours after the internet was ablaze with the hashtag “pandorapapers”- almost 11.9 million documents and files exposing the clandestine wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires- the President took a sanguine approach and stated that the Pandora papers would usher in a new age of transparency in the country and the globe.

“The Pandora Papers and subsequent follow-up audits will lift that veil of secrecy and darkness for those who cannot explain their assets or wealth,” said Uhuru in a statement sent to the newsrooms by State House spokesperson Kanze Dena-Mararo.

The President said: “My attention has been drawn to comments surrounding the Pandora papers. Whilst I will respond comprehensively on my return from my State visit to the Americas. These reports will go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe.”

According to the documents, the First Family captained by the president, his mother, sisters and brother have for decades “shielded wealth from public scrutiny through foundations and companies in tax havens, including Panama, with assets worth more than Sh3.3 billion.”

The documents, worked on by more than 600 journalists across the world reveal that the Kenyatta family owns at least seven offshore companies, two registered in Panama and five situated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

President Uhuru’s show of calm was perhaps due to the fact that through the collection of documentation, none of the property were directly linked to him or the acquisition of wealth through corruption.

However, ICIJ’s exposé leaves the president with a lot of explanation on his plate once he arrives in the country next week from the Americas.

“The movement of illicit funds, proceeds of crime and corruption thrive in an environment of secrecy and darkness,” said President Uhuru in a statement, while in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he went for the inauguration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honour during the inauguration of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed [PSCU]

He is set to proceed to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 15 in Barbados and head to New York, United States as the rotational president of the United Nations Security Council for the month of October.

While it is not illegal to set up offshore companies and foundations, President Uhuru will find have to explain why he is the second beneficiary of Varies Foundation- one of the many Panama foundations designed to manage and shelter the wealth of their clients and one that guarantees the smooth transfer of wealth from one beneficiary to the next without undue complications in the event of death of the first beneficiary. In the case of Varies Foundation, Ngina Kenyatta is the first beneficiary.

In such Panama foundations, individuals can create the foundation, donate money into it and be beneficiaries of the “charity funds” while escaping identification and taxes.

According to the Constitution, State officers shall not maintain a bank account outside Kenya except in accordance with an Act of Parliament.

The Leadership and Integrity Act, 2012 dictates that State officers (diplomats and those working outside) are required to apply to the Ethic and Anti-Corruption Commission for approval to open or operate a bank account outside the country.

Such officers are also required to submit statements of the accounts annually and shall authorize the commission to verify the statements and other relevant information from the foreign financial institution in which the account is held.

“State officer who fails to declare operation or control of a bank account outside Kenya commits an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine not exceeding five million shillings, or both,” reads the leadership and Integrity Act, 2012.??

Section 26 of the Public Officer Ethics Act states: “Every public officer shall, once every two years in December submitted to the responsible Commission for the public officer a declaration of the income, assets and liabilities of himself, his spouse or spouses and his dependent children under the age of 18 years.”