On the 26th of March this year, President Kenyatta shocked those watching and listening as he gave his “State of the Nation” address in parliament. Instead of a regular condemnation of corruption in government as normally happens by Kenyan politicians, Kenyatta went much further by lodging with Parliament a report (not yet made public) containing a list of 175 names of people suspected of being involved in corruption by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC); a body set up in accordance with the new constitution of 2010.
In his address Kenyatta said, “…corruption is the greatest threat to our security, fundamental rights and social-economic transformation.” Adding later, “No one will stand between Kenyans and what is right in the fight against corruption and other monstrous economic crimes.”
The names on the list are across all levels of government and include people from all parties. Despite the list not being released publicly, the names were leaked to the Press and the President has insisted that all those named should temporarily resign from their posts until they can be cleared by an investigation.
Many of those named immediately denounced it and the EACC, accusing the President of playing political games and acting outside of the constitution, putting names of his enemies and those who can damage him in his desire to win the Presidency again in 2017 on the list. Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, the largest single party in Parliament said, “What Kenya needs from the President is action that is genuine, logical and consistent with the demands of the constitution. Even as he is revealing names, the President is still on the other hand appointing people with corruption issues to serve his government.” He has further instructed those in his party on the list to ignore the request to step aside.
The EACC has 60 days to bring forward hard information against each of the 175 names so that prosecutions can be started or accusations dropped.
Ordinary Kenyans despite being pleasantly surprised by the President’s move, also recognise that it is unlikely to come to anything in terms of prosecutions. Politicians in Kenya are so skilled in wriggling out of corruption charges and delaying investigations that the population has become cynical to the point of boredom.
Whether Kenyatta is politically motivated or not, the fact remains that the entire Kenyan establishment is corrupt. Some politicians and government officials are clearly more so than others, but corruption is everywhere.
The new constitution introduced a radical change to the country’s administration system. In order to reduce the chance of future election violence there is now a formula that stipulates how much money each of the new 47 counties receives from central government funds. It is not in the President’s power any longer to assign resources wherever he likes. The new system is called “devolution” and puts budget responsibility for health, education, roads, development, etc, etc into the hands of the county administration.
Whereas previously there was a President, his Ministers and a parliament, and 8 provinces, now there is a President, Ministers, a much bigger parliament, a Senate, 47 counties each with a governor and an elected county council. This is a huge increase in the size of government and one of the side effects of this new arrangement is that there are many more people each wanting to filter off a portion of the money into their own pockets.
Each governor has their own staff, and their own fleet of 10 cars. Each county minister also has a vehicle and staff. The investment in brand new cars has been enormous. A typical vehicle needs to be robust enough to deal with the country’s poor roads, something like a Toyota Prado, which costs around US$ 25,000 at least. A quick calculation shows that the government must have spent at least US$ 12 million on cars for Governors alone!
Devolution is also resulting in less money reaching public services, exactly the opposite of what was intended under the new constitution. Apart from the cars, the county representatives are taking advantage of controlling their own budgets by travelling the world on fact-finding missions.
The local Health Centre Manager I spoke to in Kisumu County complained of devolution because now there are times when he doesn’t even have paracetamol in his drug store to give to his patients and when he wants to get paid he has to go and stand in a queue to be given it in cash.
Education should be devolved also but so far it hasn’t been implemented and teachers are complaining loudly that they don’t want it if it means that their salaries will be affected the same as their colleagues in the Health sector.
Road building, on the other hand does seem to have benefited from devolution. I frequently visit Kisumu County and for years the roads have been increasingly bad. The impact of devolution can be seen in the road building programme with new tracks appearing everywhere, yet when you ask any Kenyan on the ground they will tell you that the programme would be even better if contractors weren’t inflating their tender prices in order to be able to pay the county government a fat bribe for giving them the contract.
The most positive development though, for anyone who has travelled around Kenya on public transport, is that you couldn’t fail to notice the police checks every few kilometres. These police checks were no more than a fund-raising activity by the police in order to make up for their poor salaries. Every bus that passed was stopped and half the time only allowed to move on upon payment of a bribe.
These police checks so far seem to have dramatically reduced with the implementation of a Police department specifically designed to look for illegal police checks on the roads.
Kenya is a stunning country. It has wonderful tourism assets and parts are so fertile that it can grow all the food for the whole country. It has fresh water lakes, a huge sea coast, minerals and hydrocarbons. Its people are diverse, friendly and very hard working given the opportunity. No one in this country needs to be living in poverty.
If Kenyatta is really serious about tackling corruption then Kenyans and the world, need to see prosecutions and confiscations of assets of those guilty. Once corruption is stopped, Kenya can rapidly turn into an economic power house in East Africa to rival Nigeria with its oil wealth in the west and South Africa with its gold and diamonds in the south.