News 2008


Put Anti-Graft Agenda Back On Course

Business Daily (Nairobi)

12 February 2008

James Thuo Gathii

The political crisis and violence that have rocked Kenya since the December 27 General Election have all but eclipsed the anti-corruption agenda. While there have been reports that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (Kacc) is not asleep on the wheel, the salience of the anti-corruption agenda has dropped off the radar screen.

During the election campaigns promises were made to the effect that there would be zero tolerance to corrupt behaviour. As our political class settles their differences, they ought not to forget the promises they made not to entertain corruption after the elections.

While the political crisis and violence have taken over the lead story for the last several weeks, corruption is still alive and well.

In fact, corruption is significantly correlated state collapse or decay. States that have experienced the kind of mayhem and disorder Kenya has witnessed in the recent past are also states that have had major incidents of corruption.

Several NGOs and individuals have done well to publicise high level corruption in high stakes deals such as Anglo Leasing.

As we know, the first President Kibaki administration was not all too quick to take corrective action against corruption and when it did, it did so under heavy local and international pressure.

Besides high stakes corruption, there is the every day corruption in government offices and in the private sector that makes access to public and non-public services as well as employment a nightmare for ordinary Kenyans.

Consider the bribery involved in getting children into high schools, vocational teacher training colleges and even access to health services.

I continue to hear harrowing stories of parents being stiffed by crooked head teachers, college proprietors and those responsible for admissions to our various public vocational training centres.

Given that millions of Kenyans have meagre incomes if any, the bribery that confronts the ordinary person stands as a sure barrier to accessing a working or middle income existence for those shut out of access to education and employment for which they qualify.

Since some of the best research shows that education is one of the best paths out of poverty, bribery is pernicious for barring otherwise qualified persons into the professions and qualifications that hold that promise. That is why the work of Kacc must extend to the educational and vocational training institutions with a renewed urgency.

Now at the beginning of a new academic year, the legion stories that accompany the jostling for spaces into our institutions of learning both public and private require close monitoring and attention of our leading anti-corruption institutions.

Another way to retain immediate relevancy of the country's anti-corruption institutions is to monitor how well the monies the government is sending out to pay for high school tuition is going to be spent.

That, together with the ongoing procurement of textbooks that was decentralised sometime ago, requires monitoring by our anti-corruption authorities. In short, in addition to tracking high level corruption, the graft that is most immediate to our citizenry ought to receive as much attention.

Another area in which our anti-corruption agenda is most relevant is in the context of contracts that are now beginning to be awarded for provision of various services for the resettlement of the displaced.

There are all sorts of contracts that the minister responsible for Special Programming is already dishing out.

Are these contracts being competitively awarded or are they no-bid contracts? In crisis after crisis around the world, the award of contracts is accompanied by bureaucratic red tape and attendant corruption.

Kenya can avoid such corruption by putting in place mechanisms to monitor wrongdoing and to ferret it out. That way, the National Humanitarian Fund for Mitigation of Effects and Resettlement of Victims of Post-2007 Election Violence will not become a pork barrel for the usual fat cats.

Indeed, it would be tragic if the humanitarian crisis facing the country became the scene of the kind of corruption and red-tape that would undermine the good intentions behind the programme.

Finally, the private sector and the NGO sector involved in the humanitarian crisis must ensure that donations are well expended and that they are not being diverted to other uses by corrupt officials or volunteers.

While tragedy requires the best of ourselves, we cannot but fail to safeguard against opportunists who will not hesitate to take advantage of opportunities they know come with no expectation of monitoring.

In short, anti-corruption measures remain of utmost relevance so that citizens can get access to services and opportunities without having to encounter unnecessary bottlenecks on their way.

Gathii is the Governor George E. Pataki Professor of International Commercial Law, Albany Law School.