The recent sackings, in one fell swoop, of Kenya Ports Authority’s top officials has left keen observers of the perennial shenanigans and power plays around the port of Mombasa scratching their heads.
Methinks that we in the press have not adequately captured the true significance of what has taken place in Mombasa — an upsurge in raids on container freight stations, sensational discoveries of contraband in freight stations, and the high profile sackings at KPA.
If you reduce it to a political battle between the family of Governor Hassan Joho and the government, you have missed the big picture completely.
There are many long-term policy questions here. What must be done to improve security and regulation of the country’s maritime affairs? When will Kenya ever have a fully financed and efficiently operating coast guard?
To me, the biggest story in the recent development in Mombasa is how the government has swiftly moved to dismantle and stop the activities of well-organised corrupt networks and cartels that had tentacles running from the top management of KPA to Mombasa-based customs officials and the ownership of container freight stations.
When you have a situation where corrupt public officials and their allies have a tight system making it possible for them to coordinate their activities well, share knowledge, and exchange benefits, you have built a powerful political machine that is almost impossible to crack.
Stories are told about how these powerful cartels would win every tender at KPA.
When it came to nomination of cargo to container freight stations, the stations belonging to members of the powerful networks would always be favoured.
There was a period when Southern Sudan business was big. The container freight stations belonging to the cartels shared the business.
In retrospect, the government’s plans to procure a reputable international port operator to run the brand-new second container terminal built by the Japanese Government was not going to happen if the powerful networks did not have their way.
As it is, circumstances have now forced the government to temporarily drop the idea of concessioning the second container terminal.
I think that once the networks are completely dismantled, the government should consider re-tendering the second container terminal.
The biggest question bothering pundits in Mombasa remains the following: What has snapped to cause the powers and influence of these powerful cartels to dissipate within such a short period?
Theories abound, but from what I gather, the differences came about as a result of a change in approach to investigations into the activities of the cartel.
It would appear that this time around, the investigations concentrated on suspicious transactions between members of the networks.
They followed the money through nominee accounts, lawyer client accounts, and recent property transactions.
I am informed that the trail of suspicious transactions was extended all the way to Dubai.
Which brings me to the on-going investigations touching on the National Youth Service saga.
Why does every high profile corruption suspect summoned for grilling by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) mobilise hordes of hired goons and supporters to accompany him/her to Integrity House?
These people do not care about the damage these antics do to the reputation and public’s respect for what is supposed to be one of the key pillars of our integrity system.
The arrogance displayed by the elite is what adds to the perception that the EACC has become a toothless bulldog that only exists to protect the interest of the politically powerful.
Indeed, the shenanigans at the National Youth Service have left the public’s respect for and the reputation of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Authority shattered.
I have some advice for EACC. The ritual of inviting public officials for grilling at Integrity House is doing it more damage than good.
What the commission should do is to just follow the money — concentrate on unearthing all the suspicious transactions around the NYS saga.
It should conduct thorough lifestyle audits on the key decision-makers at the NYS.
I think that the idea of involving multiple anti-corruption agencies, including the Financial Reporting Centre and the Assets Recovery Agency, in the investigations makes a great deal of sense.
Currently, the law requires commercial banks to report all transactions of the value of Sh1 million and above to the centre on a daily basis.
Follow the money and conduct thorough lifestyle audits of the big-talking Cabinet secretaries and you will silence them.