Thursday, July 17, 2008



The Standard
July 17, 2008

While we support Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s call to Mr John Githongo, the self-exiled former Ethics and Governance PS, to return because “we are dealing with issues of corruption”, it must be pointed out that this will help more with perceptions that the actual fight.

Githongo resigned in January 2005 following his disillusionment with investigations into the now infamous Anglo Leasing type-contracts, as well as fears for his life over the matter.

His departure spoke directly to the question of political will, brought up again on Wednesday by Raila and Martha Karua at the opening of the Third National Integrity Review Conference at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi.

“The Executive has fallen short on the commitment to fight the vice,” Karua said on Wednesday.

On Anglo Leasing, Githongo reported being “frustrated” at the limited action taken despite the evidence available.

According to Freedom House, a global governance advocacy and research group, the fragility of the Narc coalition was one of the main obstacles to the success of reforms as the anti-corruption campaign kicked off in 2003.

Githongo also reported that Cabinet ministers Kiraitu Murungi and David Mwiraria were overly concerned with the “political cost” of blowing the scandal wide open.

The Grand Coalition Government suffers many of the same weaknesses the Narc coalition did. And, as the Grand Regency Hotel controversy is proving, political considerations loom large, providing no room for optimism even among Cabinet ministers.

Uncelebrated successes

However, the battle is not lost. What has gone uncelebrated in the sorry tale of the failure to achieve ‘zero-tolerance’ against corruption is that, despite the subsequent lack of political will, some progress has been made. This has largely been in the introduction of new laws and policies and the creation of institutions to check or fight corruption.

Anglo Leasing, for instance, was first discovered and investigated by institutions created or strengthened in the early days of the fight. These include the Governance PS’ office (sadly extinct to avoid political embarrassment) and the Banking Fraud Department of the Central Bank of Kenya. The latter was investigating accounts held by Mr Anura Perera (a player in the deals) without the knowledge of Mwiraria, well before Ntonyiri MP Maoka Maore brought Anglo Leasing up in Parliament.

Parliament played a key role in interrogating Anglo Leasing and, in recent times, Grand Regency. It also contributed much of the legislation now used to protect public resources, such as the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, the Privatisation Act, the Public Procurement and Disposal Act and the Public Officers Ethics Act, among others.

These made the censure of Mr Amos Kimunya possible, the lack of political will in the Executive notwithstanding. Admittedly, the introduction of tougher laws was not enough to save Narc’s ill-fated anti-corruption campaign. This is because of pending cases of ‘old corruption’ and failure to stem rampant graft endemic in the security sector. Anglo Leasing was a stark reminder of the latter problem.

Public confidence

The security sector is overseen by the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Security, the Public Accounts Committee and the Controller and Auditor-General’s Office.

It has been investigated by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and other anti-graft groups. However, public scrutiny and democratic oversight are a lot less effective than the control mechanisms would make believe on first sight.

This, we believe, is the true weakness of the fight against graft. We must not rely so strongly on the goodwill of individuals in power or industry of individuals with reputation as graft busters. Instead, we must strengthen laws and institutions to overcome challenges that took the wind out of the sails of the zero tolerance campaign.