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Looters Paradise

 

Bungled investigations, contradictory reports by investigating agencies allowing perpetrators of graft to wiggle their way out and steal some more

Government happy to point at the recent jailing of three former City Council workers and an ex-PS as an example of its relentless fight against graft.

 

A relentless attack on public coffers by a cabal of unscrupulous individuals backed by shameless, greedy Government officials has ensured Kenya remains the preferred destination for looters.

Curiously, some of the offices that are meant to be at the forefront of the war against graft remain mum amidst public outcry as wave after wave of what seems to be State-sanctioned corruption overrides all public good. Since 2013, close to a dozen scandals worth more than Sh100 billion have been unearthed through a combination of determined whistle-blowers, disgruntled wheeler dealers and the odd diligent civil servant.

Now, leaders are calling on President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose campaign was founded on an anti-corruption platform, to declare the flagrant looting a national disaster.

RUNAWAY GRAFT

Economists say the runaway corruption remains the country’s stumbling block in its journey towards economic growth, with fears that up to a third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ends up in the pockets and foreign bank accounts of a few well-connected individuals.

Kenyans, for the umpteenth time in the 55-year history of the country, find themselves between a rock and a hard place, corruption being the latter and unwilling State actors being the former.

“I believe up to a third of Kenya’s GDP is consumed by corruption and looting on an industrial scale. The short cut to ill-gotten wealth is politics and the civil service,” lawyer and former anti-graft chief PLO Lumumba says of the current state of affairs.

John Githongo, who served as PS for Governance and Ethics in President Mwai Kibaki’s government and is largely believed to have been the whistle blower behind the multi-billion Anglo Leasing scandal, says the rot goes deeper.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the rot goes deeper. There is much more going on. What we know now is just a drop in the ocean,” Githongo says.

While taking office, former Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Chairman Philip Kinisu said Kenya loses Sh600 billion — almost one third of the country’s budget — to corruption every year. Kinisu himself soon resigned over allegations of corruption.

Because of these numbers, Githongo says the Executive is abdicating one of its most important roles in nation-building.

“This goes beyond corruption. It goes beyond graft. What is happening in the country is purely economic delinquency by a Government that has abandoned its duty and responsibility to protect public funds,” he says.

Faced with a growing public outcry over his presidency, President Kenyatta continues to promise to root corruption out of the Government. Several ministers and PSs have resigned in the course of his presidency.

However, the resignations, cabinet reshuffles and numerous press statements have done little to stem the leakages. To date, corruption continues unabated as cartels of unscrupulous business people, in collusion with high-ranking Government officials raid State coffers with impunity.

“If a lifestyle audit was conducted today, 99 per cent of politicians and civil servants would not account for 90 per cent of their wealth,” Lumumba says.

And even when individuals are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, glaring evidence seldom amounts to anything during prosecution. “When you begin investigations, they threaten to rush to court to obtain injunctive orders. Some judges and magistrates are also part of the problem in the fight against corruption,” Lumumba says, alluding to experience from his time as the boss at EACC.

“The thieves are the ones who condemn corruption at rallies, funerals, churches and public places,” he says.

The Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) and the EACC are the other arms in what is emerging to be a coalition of the unwilling in the fight against corruption.

Bungled investigations, contradicting reports by investigating agencies all lead to creation of grey areas that are just muddy enough to allow perpetrators of graft to wiggle through.

The impact of years of looting and misuse of public funds will be unpleasant and punitive to many Kenyans.

“The macro-economic impact is huge and Kenyans should brace themselves for austerity measures. The Government has already announced intentions to increase taxes. The tragedy is that we have seen all this before but never learnt from it,” Githongo says.

The presidency though, remains adamant that so much is being done to fight graft.

When reached for comment, State House Spokesperson Manoah Esipisu pointed  to recent rulings at the judiciary where three former employees of the defunct Nairobi City Council and a former PS were sentenced to jail over the cemetery land scandal.

The four will serve between three and four years with fines ranging between Sh1 million and Sh32 million. “These are the heaviest fines imposed in our nation’s history,” Esipisu said.

MAJORITY MPS

Parliament, which ordinarily ought to be the people’s watchdog, has a history of abandoning its oversight role when it matters most. Public enquiries by the House have often morphed into choreographed fishing expeditions, with little to no results.

“Parliamentarians need to remember that their allegiance is owed to the good of the Republic and not to protect the President,” Transparency International Kenya Executive Director Samuel Kimeu says.

“It would be of greater service to the President if these MPs took their work seriously.”

Parliament however believes it is doing a good enough job.

“We are equal to the task. I promise Kenyans that we will not relent until the corrupt fall,” said National Assembly Public Accounts Committee Vice Chairperson Jessica Mbalu.

Although DCI is on record as undertaking investigations on the current corruption scandals, EACC remains mum at this most critical of times, hearing no evil, seeing no evil and failing to speak out on the evil choking Kenya.

Story originally appeared in The Sunday Standard.

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