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March 2003

NARC’s dilemma on tackling graft

Fred Oluoch

The National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that won the elections with unprecedented popular mandate in the landmark December 27 elections, could have bitten more
than it could chew. Having routed the long-serving Kenya African National Union (KANU) on the anti-corruption platform among other pre-election promises, the two-month old government is now facing a situation where what was seen as a fashionable winning
strategy could turn out to be its Waterloo.

The byword in Kenya today is war against corruption. But neither the new government that is highly expected to correct the economic ills of committed by KANU in the last 24 years , nor the targets, can clearly tell the course it is likely to take in the face of overzealous public that has only one message—fight the runaway graft to the bone.
The government, despite hauling a number of "big fish" to court on charges of corruption, has not quite blended with the public mood that expected a swift and
decisive action on the scourge which they see as the main cause of dwindling living standards.

Questions still linger whether the government, unlike the previous KANU regime, has the necessary political will to rid itself of corrupt politicians and public officials.
Hopes were raised early this month when the government appointed a new Chief Justice—the respected former Court of Appeal judge—Justice Evans Gicheru. The move
aroused optimism that the government is set to clean up the much maligned judiciary, widely seen by most Kenyans as the citadel of corruption.

The government, besides keeping its election pledges to clean up the rot in the public sector, is in great need to seal the corruption taps to finance some of its expensive policies such as free primary education and effecting the long-delayed increase in
salaries and perks for over 240,000 teachers. Yet, the speed at which the government is moving is causing concern and raising allegations that it is adopting short-term measures in fighting corruption in the name of carrying out investigations, instead of an
all-out war.

The public is baying for the blood of certain individuals that they strongly believed were the mastermind of corruption in the past 24 years. The question is whether it is the dog wagging the tail of the tail wagging the dog, with opposition members accusing the government of being prompted by the public to act in certain cases. The government maintains changes are coming and that Kenyans should not be in a hurry to see the benefits and fruits of a change of guard.

Notably, the NARC government inherited the systems and institutions that served the KANU regime, and many individuals previously implicated in corruption are still holding high public offices. Analysts argue that the seed for chaos was sown when president Mwai Kibaki— a one time deputy to Moi for 10 years—decided to retain a big chunk of Moi’s appointees in his government. The public is getting restless, as their continued stay in the office could give them a chance to destroy evidence or use their ill-gotten wealth to buy their freedom.

Just like the previous government that played a cat mouse game with Bretton Woods institutions for almost 10 years over the intermittent suspension and resumption of donor aid, the current government is also facing allegations of resorting to knee-jerk
measures to please donors.

On March 13, the government was forced to temporarily withdraw a crucial anti-corruption bill that will open the door for the resumption of donor aid, mainly due
to squabbles of power-sharing deal that was agreed on before the elections. KANU, with 68 MPs, led by official leader of the opposition, Uhuru Kenyatta, had earlier vowed to team up with disgruntled elements in the government to oppose the legislation on grounds that it amounted to piecemeal amendments to the constitution while
Kenyans are awaiting total overhaul of the constitution.

Besides stemming corruption, the new government also has the task of unravelling the widespread belief that key members of the former government stashed away
over Ksh 60 billion ($750 million) in Swiss banks and Cayman Islands. Years of appeals by various interest groups for monies kept in secret foreign accounts to be returned
to help "patch up' the ailing economy, have fallen on
deaf years.

The public is now looking up to the government for the return of the funds, mainly believed to have been looted from public coffers. Recently, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mr Kiraitu Murungi, announced that the government has managed to recover Ksh 15 billion ($188 million). Also encouraging is the recent report by Transparency International (Kenyan Chapter), which showed a significant reduction in bribery index in 2002 compared to 2001.

The survey revealed a drop in expenditure on bribes from Ksh 8,000 ($100) per urban respondent per month to Ksh4,900($61.25). This, however, does not give room
for complacency given that it did not cover looting by public officials in privileged position, and the fact that it was conducted under the previous regime. The report also revealed that Kenya was in 2002, the world's sixth most corrupt country according to perception of the business community of public officials and politicians.

But more worrying is how NARC—a conglomeration of 15 parties with disparate interest but who came together with the common goal of defeating KANU—will rout out bad apples within its midst. It is faced with task of exposing persons currently in the government but who had been previously mentioned in corruption. KANU operatives are not making the task any easier, with continuous assertions that most of those
who brought the country to its knees are now in government having shifted from the ruling shortly before the December 27 elections.

Top government officials have often repeated that the new government will not tolerate the habit of "sacred cows", yet the approach in its war against graft is raising eyebrows that the government is somewhat cautious in going for the jugular of some individuals.
This perception recently led to huge outcry by a section of KANU members who accused the government of selective and discriminative approach in the fight against graft, besides engaging in witch-hunt against members of the former government.

The public is also awaiting the pre-election promise where those who have been appointed to cabinet positions are supposed to declare their wealth and how
they acquired it. President Kibaki recently announced that he would declare his wealth within a month.

But of great test for the new government, will be the 10-year old Goldenberg scandal in which the previous government is said to have lost $1 billion in fictitious exports of gold and diamond jewellery.

A judicial commission of inquiry kicked off on March 14, and is set to be the most intense and protracted in the country’s 40 years of independence, and where key personalities in the current and previous government are expected to testify.

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