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February 2003

Government declares war on graft

Eric Maino

With less than 100 days in power, the new government has set the ball rolling in its dedication to crack down on graft, a move that has been received with mixed reactions across the country.

This move is in line with President Mwai Kibaki’s pledge, as during his inauguration late December last year, he declared in no uncertain terms that his government would have zero tolerance on corruption.

The government kicked off its zeal by publishing through the Justice and Constitution Affairs minister, Kiraitu Murungi, bills that will enable it effectively tackle the vice that has since pervaded all sectors of governance and private enterprises, subsequently throwing the economy in a shambles.

The first is the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill that will pave way to the creation of an independent anti-corruption authority charged with the express responsibility of investigating and prosecuting of all corrupt cases. The body to be formed will be called the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission [KACC]. This will replace the Kenya anti corruption police unit, a department in the police force created by the former government within the police service. "While KACC is expected to operate independently, parliament and the Attorney General will have powers to order it to investigate individuals and public bodies," the bill says.

Another fundamental bill published is the Public Officers Ethics Bill that will demand all public officers inclusive of cabinet ministers to declare their wealth before and after tenure in office. It also requires the officers to declare wealth for their spouses and children less than 18 years.

The clause that proposes the formation of KACC, proposes a tri-structure in the authority: the commission, an anti-corruption advisory board and a number of supervisory commissions for each section of public service like the Public Service Commission and the Teachers Service Commission. Besides this, the president moved ahead to create an anti corruption department in his office, which will deal with cases of corruption.

The creation of an anti corruption authority has been one of the many demands by the Bretton Woods institutions, as a prerequisite to resume lending in the country that has been denied foreign aid almost for the past one decade. Said IMF during a previous talk with the former KANU government: "The Bretton Woods institutions are making corruption a pre-condition for releasing any more cash for development and recurrent expenditure to the government."

"IMF is urging the Kenyan government to establish an independent anti corruption authority and a code of ethics for civil servants, legislators and the judiciary". With the publication of the bills, a ray of hope is finally flashed of possible donor resumption any time the bills become acts and implemented.

The bills aside, the government has swiftly moved through the minister for Roads and Public Works, Raila Odinga, to repossess over 200 government houses that had been irregularly allocated to former government bigwigs as the country was approaching election. The houses mostly in the city’s posh estates had been at less then their market value.

Odinga has also sent stern warnings to a number of contractors as risking disqualification and prosecution if it will be established that they actually conspired with the previous regime to fleece the government. He has moved ahead to freeze payment authorized by KANU to some road contractors he terms ‘Cowboy,’ believed to have swindled the government of millions of dollars, even when there was no work done on the ground.

The local government minister Karisa Maitha has also moved to repossess public plots and houses grabbed from municipalities and county councils in the country. While KANU MPs cry foul, accusing the government of witch-hunting following the crackdowns, there is no relenting. Says Kamukunji MP Norman Nyaga: "The government will not relent on its crusade against corruption by turning a blind eye to past misdeeds that brought Kenyans untold suffering."

Last year, Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, ranked Kenya the sixth most corrupt country in the world and fourth in Africa.

Meanwhile, the anti corruption tide that is sweeping across the country. Head of the anti-corruption police unit Swaleh Slim has revealed that his department has so far investigated 300 corruption associated cases and would soon take 58 of them to court.

Elsewhere, the government has revoked several lands hived off illegally from forests. One of them is the controversial 1000 acres curved off from Kaptagat forest in the Rift Valley province by former powerful cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott. At the same time, the Minster of environment and Natural Resources Dr. Newton Kulundu, has threatened court action against Biwott, for destroying the forest relied upon by the locals for their water catchments.

The corruption battle that began with the judiciary is bound to spread to other departments. Already, High Court judge Justice Samuel Oguk has been charged in court for obtaining money by false pretence among other charges.

Also featuring on the list that is swelling everyday is Mombasa District Commissioner Ezekiel Machogu, accused of misleading the central tendering board to pay 166 million to a road contractor, as well as former Kenyatta National Hospital Director Hosea Waweru, who was charged with graft.

The government has also extended the crackdown to the armed forces where ten Army Land Rovers were mysteriously sold to members of the outlawed Mungiki sect. Office of the President minister Chris Murungaru confirmed that senior officers were involved in the scam and has promised to bring the culprits to book.

The foreign community is impressed with the manner the new government has stepped up its war on graft. The US, Britain, the World Bank and other development partners have expressed their appreciation and promised to support the government in its endeavour to stamp out the vice.

But the government’s war on graft may be hampered by its own officials, who were involved in the vice during the past regime. How the government will deal with such culprits remains to be seen.

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