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Monday, October 3, 2022

Corruption ,Power & Prosperity

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Corruption ,power and prosperity is becoming the new definition of Kenya’s politics.This is possibly one of the best speeches on corruption on Kenyan soil.

The then British High Commissioner for Kenya, Sir Edward Clay, said it all at the KUJ dinner hosted by Secretary General Ezekiel Mutua.

Sadly Kenyans never learn.

The irony is that the anti-corruption pioneers are those that profit from the vice today.

16 years later, those at the top are spitting on our feet. Then lying to us, there’s an enemy who must be killed with BBI bullets.

Investigative journalism and corruption: what they have in common is a commitment to good governance.

A free press is a requisite but not a sufficient prerequisite for a free society: a free press is not always a good press all the time.

But unfree press is never a good press: it is incompatible with a well-functioning democratic society.

Corruption is the biggest single impediment to good governance in Kenya. And corruption is a challenge and a test for the investigative journalist.

Corruption

Corruption of one kind and another is so commonplace. As such the media can only afford to focus on the most flagrant cases.

Recent events and almost daily news stories reveal new and emerging scams involving most forms of corruption: abuse of office, conflict of interest, patronage, client-ism, big and petty corruption, and, above all, questionable procurement.

The media are, however, short on substantive answers to the questions posed by revelations about earlier government deals.

Since six months ago, there has been a shift in the language of government statements: no-one talks now as they spoke then; no more blind acceptance.

Lots of whitewash covers those displeasing shoes, but no denial that underneath, right enough, it’s still there, that unpleasing substance.

Not only the shoes of the donors, by the way, but also Kenyans. And the feet of those who can’t afford to wear shoes.

‘Massive looting’

What seemed to drop out of sight in the corruption debate is a full-scale examination of where responsibility lies in specific cases; and what ministerial responsibility means.

At least one government leader used the argument that its civil servants of the previous system who had gone wrong.

Others wonder why a top official should be kept accountable for misdeeds down the chain of command. If a messenger takes a little stuff, is the minister responsible for it?

We are all expected to laugh at this example of how ridiculous it is that any slight irregularity should be addressed by a minister, and we will all be too ashamed to push the issue any further. This trivializes the problem.

We are not talking about minor corruption. We are talking about massive looting and/or grand corruption which in toto has a huge impact on Kenya’s economy.

Whitewash

Somewhere between the kitu kidogo [small bribe] and the conclusion of a contract worth millions of dollars through bent procedures to acquire for the government something it doesn’t need, hasn’t provided for, and at a fictitious price, is a level at which the searchlight of investigation should turn on those in charge.

And the question of whether they should take personal responsibility has to be asked, and answered. The issue is, whether there was negligence or complicity.

The first layer of whitewash, now being touted by people who should know better, is that since the money from patently dishonest deals has been returned, there is no need of investigation. Or since a dubious tender has been cancelled, there is no need of further inquiry about why it was improper.

Who ought to ask questions about corruption? Most ministers say ‘not diplomats’. Quite right.We foreigners shouldn’t have to waste time doing what other people ‘s job is to do, and what Kenyans obviously want them to do.

It is hard to demonstrate to your readers that here is an issue that needs further inquiry by the proper authorities; and to explain why it is important…

MPs Failure

The historical experience of all parliaments is that the best handhold on the throat of government is through its scrutiny of its financial management. No-one took MEPs very seriously until they established a right to scrutinise the European Commission’s finances.

It looks as though Kenya’s parliament may have missed a chance to do so in respect of the biggest, most visible and well-documented scandal since Goldenberg.

My point is that parliament is not playing its role as well as the media is playing its part.

The parliamentarians’ failure in this case weakens a crucial means of restraining and checking the use of executive power, given in the present and in the draft constitutions, quite rightly, to the people’s elected representatives and its powerful PAC.

I did not expect the Democratic Republic of Congo to teach Kenya lessons in parliamentary control of the executive.

Yet President Kabila recently suspended six ministers and the boards of ten parastatals following accusations of embezzlement leveled against them in a parliamentary report.

Many Stones Turned

As you would expect, the United Kingdom is ready and willing to help the Kenyan authorities investigate corruption. There have already been several useful episodes of co-operation between our people and the anti-corruption authorities here.

And I have recently passed to the appropriate authorities details of 20 deals or procurement, which, I believe, merit the following treatment:

i) Full and transparent investigation of a kind accessible and comprehensible in its entirety to every Kenyan taxpayer and citizen;
ii) Resolution, whereby those against whom sufficient evidence of corrupt practice exists are, as appropriate, dismissed and prosecuted;
iii) Repair – whereby action is taken to ensure that such opportunities are blocked in future.

There are lots of things about corruption which weaken a state. It distorts the policy process; things are bought not because they are needed or even the best buy, but offer the best rake-off. From looting through grand corruption to petty corruption, the whole system makes the citizen’s life intolerable.

With it goes favoritism, nepotism, ethnic or regional preferences, and a wholesale denial of services. Also, a system of dissuasion, intimidation and repression which is contrary to good governance and impedes your legitimate inquiries and the public’s legitimate interest.

Either way, my current list now adds up to a lot more than the 15 billion Kenyan shillings ($194m) I mentioned in July.

That sum alone could have covered twice over the government’s budget deficit. Or perhaps enabled it to cope with its citizens’ need for famine relief. Or build 15,000 classrooms, meeting half the Ministry of Education’s requirement.

At the lower end of the scale of opportunity costs, just Shs 2 billion would buy 10 million double size treated bednets: Their availability would save 130,000 child lives lost to malaria.

Four of the deals on the list I have given to your authorities are larger than the infamous passports’ scam run by Anglo Leasing, which caused such a stink. So they must surely rate a commensurately bigger furore in demanding explanations.

Manipulation

It is by now clear that the people behind these scams are very clever. Proper investigation and resolution of the issues involved in each will be a very complex process.

It will be hampered if the top people in those departments are in the way.

There is no call to make a legal judgement that anyone is guilty; it is sufficient to reach a political judgement on whether the public interest requires them to stand aside and let the investigators get on without their being in the way.

If the herdsman hears a commotion among his animals and finds a leopard has entered the boma [homestead], he will first eject the leopard before seeing what damage it has done.

He cannot be expected to look over the fence from outside to assess the guilt or innocence of the leopard!

Nor can he hope to assess the damage while the leopard is still there.

There is another noteworthy point. The names of certain international businessmen recur.

What is interesting is the role of Kenyan people who are neither elected nor officials of government in the questionable negotiations of these significant transactions on behalf of government.

Ask your newsvendor or the shoe-shiner if you want a highly informed list of who they are. And there is the role of people outside Kenya, who manipulate people inside Kenya, near to or actually in the government, with an ease and confidence which is frightening.

They believe that, whatever electors may do, there will always be people in a new government who can be manipulated.

Scale Underestimated

I got some criticism for the language I used back in July last year. Looking back, I regret three things: Not speaking out much earlier than July; underestimating the scale of the looting afoot; and the moderation of the language I used then: That was clearly inexcusably polite in relation to what we see going on. Even more so in light of what we discern, but do not see fully… Yet.

I have been encouraged by more recent and very firm re-statements of the government’s commitment to the war on corruption. That’s why I return to the subject tonight: I am a supporter of their war strategy, and want to cheer their declared will to win. And I believe you have an interest in this war, too, reflecting the interests of the public.

Here’s a slightly adapted and shortened poem of TS Eliot, about a cat (not a leopard) who always gets away from the law. Eliot liked cats and wrote about all sorts of cat-characters. His long poem about cats inspired the famous musical “Cats”.

This one, called Macavity, is a really bad cat. He’s also very clever. When he does something bad and people get after him, he always manages to escape. I hope this adaptation may amuse for a moment the hard-working investigators who are trying to find the footprints of the Macavitys in Kenya, and encourage them to keep looking.

Bad Cat

‘Macavity’s a mystery cat, he’s called the hidden paw –
For he’s the great facilitator, far above the law.
He’s a menace to the donors, he’s the taxpayers’ despair:

For the treasury is empty… but Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,

He flourishes in cyberspace, he stalks through zero gravity.

He’ll be on a yacht off Cyprus when they find the cupboard’s bare,

For the treasury is empty… but Macavity’s not there:

Don’t ask for him in government – you’ll get an icy stare

And they’ll tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there.

He likes to be in transit and he’s partial to hotels,

He has a place in Manchester, he’s fond of the Seychelles.

So when the nation’s revenue’s in European banks,

You need a team of tractors but acquire a troop of tanks

A nation’s full of caviar, but hasn’t any bread,

You want a road for Christmas, but a frigate comes instead

You’re buying a police car and you’re paying through your teeth

For a chicken house that’s blue and white and rotten underneath:

You can look behind the scenery or stare up in the air

But the ministers will tell you that Macavity’s not there.

His manipulative skills would make a physio despair,

For the Treasury is empty… but Macavity’s not there!’

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