Sunday, July 13, 2008



July 13, 2008
Sunday Nation

Intelligence chief Maj-Gen Michael Gichangi could not testify at the inquiry into post-election violence this week because he was at the same time honouring a summons by the parliamentary committee investigating the Grand Regency hotel saga.
This example of a busy senior civil servant shuttling between inquiries manifestly demonstrates the state of the nation, a nation in a perpetual condition of inquiry, investigation and probing where task forces, committees and commissions have become a replacement for decisiveness.

Since January 2003 when President Kibaki came to power, there have been no fewer than 12 inquiries, some appointed by the President but the majority by other senior public officials.

THE INQUIRIES HAVE DEALT WITH ISsues ranging from the multi-billion-shilling Goldenberg affair, illegal allocation of public land, hawking on city streets, the conduct of suspended judges, the conduct of officials at Kenya Power and Lighting Company and now the Grand Regency saga.

Nor have Kenyans seen the last of these commissions; there will soon be one on truth, justice and reconciliation.

Though these probes cost money, they increasingly appear intended to function as a safety valve to release public pressure over official failures and not to find solutions to the problems taxpayers are protesting about in the first place.

The Goldenberg inquiry quickly comes to mind. It was conducted by reputable lawyers chaired by Court of Appeal Judge Samuel Bosire. The commission unearthed a host of illegalities committed as the nation was plundered in the early 1990s.

Three years after receiving that report, the government has only prosecuted one case in respect of the theft of Sh5.8 billion. The Bosire commission found that taxpayers had lost tens of billions more.

If the Kibaki Government was not interested in pursuing the lost money and jailing the thieves, why did it throw good taxpayer money after bad? What was the net benefit to the Kenyan people?

And what was the point in inquiring into the Armenian mercenary saga in which, once again, glaring illegalities were laid bare through the evidence presented before the commission chaired by former Police Commissioner Shedrach Kiruki?

There was yet another inquiry into the 2003 Busia plane crash that claimed the life of cabinet minister Ahmed Khalif. After a long list of recommendations that would have improved local air travel safety, the same issue became the subject of debate when cabinet minister Kipkalaya Kones and assistant minister Lorna Laboso recently died in another airplane crash.

On the brighter side, the task force on harambees chaired by former Subukia MP Koigi Wamwere resulted in the law that bars public officials from officiating at them.

The reasoning behind the law was that public officials had long exploited their offices to collect harambee donations in exchange for public service. This particular task force produced legislation which solved a problem.

THAT SHOULD BE THE INTENTION of every inquiry: to provide answers, give explanations and propose ways and means by which a problem is solved.

This country is sagging under the weight of task forces, inquiries, commissions, committees and such other compositions investigating failures by public officials or deals where corruption is suspected. Rather than resolute action being taken, such as a professional investigation by competent authorities or the sacking of incompetent officials, a probe team is appointed.

To save money and ensure that the country is actually governed, the President, Prime Minister, Parliament and other officials empowered to appoint teams to make inquiries should only do so when there is compelling public need. The recommendations of such inquiries must be implemented.

Leaders should not be afraid to act decisively in the public interest; that’s what they are hired to do.

As the saying goes, “If a snake enters your house, don’t form a committee to investigate snakes. Kill it.”