New posturing against governors won't work

President William Ruto, during the opening of the 2023 edition of the Devolution Conference in Uasin Gishu County. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Chapter Six of the Constitution has become Kenya’s undisputed taboo topic. Its leadership and integrity requirements are now a ‘non-issue’ and an ‘alien’ matter.   

You will agree that deviation from what the law expects of public officials has exposed the country to dicey influences and costly consequences. We’re caught up in the muddle!

In May 2022, chairman of the electoral commission flung up his hands and declared he could do nothing to block tainted politicians from vying. The shock admission by Wafula Chebukati – the man Kenya Kwanza calls a ‘national hero’ – earned him no red roses.

His take followed another verdict by Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission chief executive Twalib Mbarak who warned that aspirants with dubious characters would end up on the ballot due to lack of resources to do foolproof integrity checks. That wasn’t all.

The agencies whimpered that even if they exposed damning evidence, not much would’ve been done to bar felons and academic cheats. Of 241 whose disqualification EACC suggested, only five were. The poll aftermath and some plum appointments that followed is a no-brainer. In Justin Muturi’s words, ‘voters get as good as they vote in... Garbage in, garbage out.’

This crabby debate is worth revisiting as the 2023 devolution conference concludes in Eldoret, and in the wake of a fresh bid to block governors, who served their full term, from vying for other seats supposedly to have them address accountability issues arising from their tenures.  

In seeking to amend Section 81 of the Constitution, an over-ambitious Nominated Senator Chimera Mwinzagu also cites conflict of interest in a former county chief seeking to be Senator, MP or Member of County Assembly.

Through a Bill now before the Justice, Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee and the Senate Speaker, Mwinzagu wants former two-term governors – like Okoth Obado, Mwangi wa Iria, Kivutha Kibwana, Hassan Joho, Alfred Mutua and Cyprian Awiti – not to vie again until they address audit queries raised by the Auditor General, if any. The Constitution Amendment Bill 2023 reads: “A person who has served as governor shall not be eligible to be elected as MP or MCA within the first five years immediately after the end of their term of service.”

This is another cheeky move akin to playing music to a goat’s ears. Even if it sails through, it will never slow the drain on the public purse. If integrity requirements are devotedly upheld before one is elected, there would be little or zero fears about their conduct in office. You can’t knowingly let thieves into high offices then wait to nail them after they retire.

Can we ensure only solid, dependable and disciplined individuals occupy high office? If politicians with questionable inclinations will still get a through-pass in 2027, uppermost in our minds, we must expect more looting. It will be myopic to demand accountability way too late. Author Sydney Harris once warned that history repeats itself, but in such a cunning disguise, we never detect resemblance until damage is done. Let’s reinforce laws, practices and attitudes that build integrity rather than assume that tainted personalities in office will behave well and not use their powers to cover their tracks.

There’re disquieting accountability issues in counties. On Wednesday, President William Ruto decried the wanton looting. Despite the 47 units utilising more than Sh3.5 trillion since the onset of devolution in 2013, the transformation in some is a far cry from the majority.

A worrisome question is why society cherishes cartels, wheeler-dealers and high priests of corruption, and vetting that should preserve sanctity of public office is now an act performed only to fulfil bureaucratic electoral requirements. Tragic!

This moment, we require ingenious ways to tame the graft malady. No need to vacuously target politicians when they finish their terms. Hold them to account now. 

The writer is a communications practitioner. Twitter: @markoloo

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