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Why I skipped State House meeting on corruption

Friday October 21 2016

From left: Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss Ndegwa Muhoro, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Chief Executive Officer Halakhe Wako, Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko and Attorney-General Githu Muigai at the State House Summit on Governance, Anti-Corruption and Accountability at State House in Nairobi on October 18, 2016. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

From left: Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss Ndegwa Muhoro, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Chief Executive Officer Halakhe Wako, Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko and Attorney-General Githu Muigai at the State House Summit on Governance, Anti-Corruption and Accountability at State House in Nairobi on October 18, 2016. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By DAVID NDII
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My good friend John Githongo called me last Wednesday to alert me to expect a call from a civil society leader regarding an invitation to an event at State House. The call came almost immediately. I sought to know the background, objectives, why I was being invited, what I was expected to do but the gentleman did not seem to have the details either, so we left it at that.

The next information I got was from social media, referring to reports in the digital gutter press announcing that the President had invited his critics to an anti-corruption summit in State House. That was on Thursday.

On Friday, Githongo told one of the dailies that he had not received an invitation and they promptly emailed him an invitation letter.

Late Friday afternoon, I got an SMS from someone asking where my letter could be delivered, and I advised them to email it. It did not arrive that day.

NEWS ITEM

Next came a news item over the weekend reporting a press briefing by State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu, in which he specifically mentioned Githongo and I. We are the only individuals he mentioned by name. Still no letter. The letter appeared in my mailbox on Monday late morning. It was dated Wednesday 12th.

I have in my time been involved in many high-level policy meetings, both local and international, as a speaker as well as an organiser. There is a way of going about these things. At the minimum, an invitation letter should include a programme and a short background note on the meeting. It is also customary and helpful for a letter to indicate a contact person to respond to and to send enquiries. None of that:

“You are hereby invited to attend and participate in the Governance and Accountability Summit scheduled for Tuesday October 18 at State House Nairobi. You will be expected to be at the venue at 6.15am whereafter breakfast will be served and the Summit will begin at 7am. Please come prepared to contribute to the interactive sessions, which are an integral part of the Summit. We look forward to your active participation in this important Summit.”

SPEAK PERSONALLY

It also helps to speak to key invitees personally, or at the very least an email enquiring about their availability and willingness to participate in a meeting. I do know that this is the practice even in government. I was quite recently a resource person at a workshop for an anti-corruption task force organised by the Attorney General. The officer-in-charge, who I did not know before, called me personally, introduced himself, explained the purpose of the workshop, the participants, the other resource persons I would be sharing a platform with, and once I confirmed I was available and willing, followed with a letter.

It is public knowledge that I am not a fan of the Jubilee Administration. If indeed the administration was interested in my attendance, that message could have been easily conveyed. The SMS I received indicated that it was sent on behalf of a governance advisor, a Mr Kariuki.

He could have called. Mr Manoah Esipisu, an acquaintance of many years, could have had the courtesy of informing us or at the very least confirming that we’d received invitations before throwing our names out to the media. Mr Joseph Kinyua, who signed the letter is a professional acquaintance of more than 20 years. He too could have called.

NO INTENTION

My conclusion, which I believe to have been borne out, was that there was no intention to have a serious engagement. There is in fact a strong case in my view for the President to have no-holds barred conversations with his team, but that place is not on national TV, with celebrity moderators and a retinue of career criminals and political lowlifes. The government has several facilities for such conversations this is in fact one of the core functions of the Kenya Institute of Administration. One of the principal roles of the Head of the Public Service is to insulate the service from political pressure. I cannot see any of Kinyua’s predecessor allowing senior public servants to be exposed to such a spectacle.

As it happens, this is not the first time that the Jubilee administration has tried to lure me into a lynch mob. At the beginning of the year, I was approached by a colleague to participate in a debate on the Eurobond at the University of Nairobi, which I politely declined.

A few days later, I received a call from a prominent business leader insisting that I must attend the debate, which I also politely declined, and attempted to educate him that university debates were fora for intellectual and policy debates, not arenas for inquisitions there was nothing intellectual about one bunch of people accusing another bunch of corruption and other bunch denying it. This clearly did not go down well as he called a day later, a little more forcefully this time, whereupon I posed to him the following question: suppose a member of your staff uncovered a fraud in your company, would you convene a debate between the whistleblower and the culprits?

CHOREOGRAPHED BLITZ

And sure enough, the event turned out to be a choreographed public relations blitz that was meant to bury the Eurobond issue once and for all. It backfired. In fact, when one student asked one of the Treasury mandarins a tough question, another prominent business leader grabbed the microphone and put down the student the cat was out of the bag.

In The Physiology of Plunder, French economist, politician and essayist postulated that “When plunder becomes a way of life for men living together, they create for themselves a legal system that authorises it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

That plunder has become a way of life in this country is hard to contest. Known plunderers occupy some of the highest offices in the land, and others whose loot is still hot are lining up to run for office.

And it has trickled down. A study conducted by the Aga Khan University’s East Africa Institute found that half of Kenyans believe that it does not matter how one makes money as long as one does not end up in jail they admire people who make money by hook or crook. Close to a third believe corruption is profitable. Some 70 per cent would not stand up for what is right for fear of retribution.

CORRUPTION SANITISATION

For a “legal system that authorises it”, we need look no further than the one-stop-shop for corruption sanitisation that we call the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. That leaves the court of public opinion. This is what broadcasting the invitations of the President’s “fiercest critics” as one media put it, in a manner suggesting that the public was being invited to a Romanesque gladiatorial contest, was about.

The purpose was the same as why Rome put up public spectacles — to divert the attention of the gullible masses from the real issues, in this case by channelling public anger over corruption into bloodsport. The summit delivered but instead of bloodsport, what the public got was a three ring circus — the thieves, the look-outs and the court jesters — with the President as the main act (another round of applause for #CryBabyPresident please).

There is in fact a parallel between our corruption situation with the Jubilee administration and the GOPs Trump predicament. The GOP nominated Donald Trump knowing that he was a bigot because many of Trump’s supporters are themselves bigots, mostly racial bigots, and sexist.

STARE ENTRAILS

As Trump’s bigotry has flowered in all its splendour, America has been forced to stare the entrails of their society. The show just refuses to end. And so it is with us, compelled to watch our moral poverty played back in technicolour. And the show goes on, and on.

It is noteworthy that the President finally broke his silence on the Eurobond. As I wrote before, he has, for the longest while, exercised his right to remain silent. And when he spoke, it was an attempt to stare down the Auditor General and to obfuscate the issue. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is the banker to the Central Bank of Kenya, and in effect to the government and people of Kenya. It is customary, indeed obligatory for auditors, to speak to the bankers of the clients that they audit.

Allow me to repeat for the umpteenth time. Clearing up the Eurobond requires three things. First, the government’s narrative of the financial trail must be validated by the counter-parties, of who the New York Fed is the most critical. Second, the government’s books must balance.

DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS

Third, the money trail must lead to development projects. And even if we were to tick all three boxes, it would not absolve CS Rotich, PS Kamau Thugge and responsible officials in the Central Bank of the crimes they’ve already committed namely forgery, fraudulent accounting and misleading the public.

Seeing as it is, I who revealed in my last column that both the government and the New York Fed have frustrated the Auditor General’s work, it seems reasonable to presume that the opprobrium unleashed on the Auditor General was probably meant for me as well.

Far from intimidating anybody, what the Freudian slip, the second in as many months, achieved was to establish how high the cover-up goes.

What remains to be established is whether the fraud itself goes as high.

We say in Gikuyu njamba irundagwo ni mucakwe (a great warrior can trip on a maize cob).