Africa, Headlines

CORRUPTION-KENYA: A New Anti-Graft Plan, Amidst Old Scandals

Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, May 31 2006 (IPS) - A new plan to address corruption in Kenya has been adopted in the East African country – this as government continues to be criticised for overseeing widespread graft.

The National Anti-Corruption Plan was drawn up by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC), a government body mandated to investigate graft.

“The development of a National Anti-Corruption Plan has been informed by the insight that the war against corruption in Kenya had hitherto been largely ineffective, for the reason that it lacked vision, was disjointed and incoherent,” said KACC Director Aaron Ringera Tuesday, at a National Anti-Corruption Plan Stakeholders’ Conference where the plan was discussed and endorsed.

“The plan is critical in the government’s efforts to mainstream the anti-corruption agenda, and to promote ethics and integrity in the country’s individual, corporate and social structure,” he added. Government is now expected to implement the plan, which contains guidelines on fighting graft.

The day-long meeting, held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, was attended by senior representatives of government, trade unions, the private sector, media and civil society.

It came amidst charges that President Mwai Kibaki’s administration has failed dismally in meeting its election pledge to root out corruption in the country, despite having introduced new measures to prevent bribery and related ills.

Some claim that these reforms are largely cosmetic.

A Public Officers Ethics Act was signed into law in 2003, for instance, to compel civil servants to declare their worth. But activists claim the legislation is ineffective because information about officials’ finances remains confidential – preventing any scrutiny by anti-graft organisations.

Similarly, new institutions such as the National Anti-Corruption Campaign Steering Committee have been launched to intensify the battle against graft; however, some argue that the solution to corruption does not lie in the number of anti-graft bodies – but rather in the authority given to them.

“Yes, the commissions may be many. But all across the world, evidence shows that the effective ones are those with powers to prosecute,” Maina Mutuaruhiu, a senior human rights officer at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, told IPS at the meeting.

None of the bodies, including the KACC, has the power to prosecute those accused of corruption.

After conducting investigations into alleged graft, the KACC may forward cases to the attorney general (AG) for prosecution. However, the AG’s office has been accused of incompetence, given the length of time it takes to conclude corruption cases.

In spite of these claims, a proposal to give the KACC prosecutorial powers was rejected at Tuesday’s conference by senior government officials, including Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko. They called instead for the AG’s office to be strengthened.

Pending substantial progress on these matters, corruption appears to have remained endemic in government and elsewhere, three-and-a-half years into Kibaki’s five-year term – something illustrated by the ‘Kenya Bribery Index 2006’ (released Monday by the Kenyan branch of anti-graft watchdog Transparency International).

The annual index is based on a survey of the bribery that Kenyans experienced in 2005; it found that corruption encountered by the country’s citizens increased last year. About 2,400 people were interviewed for the index about where bribes were taken from them, for what reason – and the amounts paid.

“The survey respondents encountered bribery in close to half (47%) of their interactions with officials, both public and private, as compared to 34% in 2004. The number of bribes paid doubled from 0.54 bribes per person (one bribe for every two people) in 2004, to 1.2 bribes per person,” the document noted.

“However, the cost of bribes continued on a downward trend, declining from Ksh. [Kenya shillings] 2,660 to Ksh. 2,006 [from about 37 dollars to just under 28 dollars].”

The findings of the ‘Kenya Bribery Index 2006’ are just the latest indication of the extent of graft in the country.

Earlier this year, a report on inquiries into the so-called Anglo Leasing scandal by the former permanent secretary for governance and ethics, John Githongo, was made public.

Senior officials were implicated in the awarding of contracts worth millions of dollars to a fictitious company called Anglo Leasing and Finance, for supplying Kenya with a system to produce passports that could not be forged – and building police forensic laboratories.

The scandal, which first came to light in 2004, is the biggest to occur under Kibaki – who stands accused of knowing about the matter, but failing to address it.

Attempts by the media Tuesday to have Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua or the KACC’s Ringera provide information about the status of investigations into the scam were fobbed off – Karua simply declining to answer the questions.

Ringera sternly intoned, “No comment. Not today.”

Following the release of the Githongo report, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kiraitu Murungi and his counterpart at finance, David Mwiraria, resigned – and the Parliamentary Accounts Committee issued a report recommending urgent investigation and prosecution of those implicated in the scam.

But again, there was little information at the conference about progress made in implementing these recommendations.

“The report has already been adopted by government and it is being implemented. I said it is being implemented,” Dorothy Angote, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, told IPS.

In addition, those involved in an earlier scandal, the Goldenberg affair, have yet to be brought to book. This matter involved the fictitious export of gold and diamonds from Kenya in the early 1990s under former head of state Daniel arap Moi – at enormous cost to the country.

Erstwhile vice president and finance minister George Saitoti has been implicated in the scam. He resigned from his post as education minister in the current government this year, due to public pressure over the Goldenberg affair.

For activists such as Mutuaruhiu, resignations only go part of the way to releasing corruption’s hold on Kenya, however.

“Until we see prosecution of high profile people involved in corruption, unless we see these people arrested and what they looted recovered, the fight against corruption will achieve very little – or nothing at all,” he noted.

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