A lawyer friend once advised me that should I ever get caught breaking the law, the best thing to do would be to deny everything and keep denying it until kingdom come. That way, he said, I might get a reprieve should the complainant be unable to testify, or the evidence gets bungled, or any other act of God intervenes to save my skin.
Well, I have no intention of getting caught dipping my hands into the till or with a smoking gun, but it seems many other people have taken that advice to heart and have been busy practising it without a worry in the world. In my books, our county governors head the list followed closely by MPs and then by our world-renowned tenderpreneurs. Nobody is ever guilty of malfeasance in Kenya, even if their wrongdoing sticks out like a sore thumb.
This week’s Devolution Conference in Naivasha has been an eye-opener in many respects. Everyone involved agrees that devolution is probably the best thing that ever happened to Kenya, and almost everyone, with the probable exception of county chiefs, agrees that all forms of corruption have been devolved to the grassroots in a big way.
Exactly a week ago, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission threatened to administer a lifestyle audit on governors and senior county staff to establish how they rose from being men of modest means to unimaginable opulence in four years, and a number dared the EACC to bring it on. They had a reason to be defiant.
They know that the anti-corruption body may have all kinds of information, but proving that almost all governors are highly corrupt is another matter altogether. They also know that threatening to bar those with court cases from running for office is so much hot air. Either the EACC does not have the capacity, or nobody really wants to open that particular Pandora’s Box.
It is easy to imagine what would happen should any of those fellows be hauled to court to answer charges of corruption. Not only would they robustly deny the charges, they would mobilise their villagers, complete with boda boda outriders, to escort them to court, and in the end address a brief press conference to accuse their political enemies of undermining them. And considering that there are only five months left before the elections, it is wonder that neither Jubilee nor Nasa has the balls to drag their most ardent supporters to court.
During the burial of Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua, both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga did not mince words about what they thought of the latest crop of “Eating Chiefs”. The only fly in the ointment of Devolution, the two leaders agreed, is that although there is plenty of money in the counties, the common people do not really benefit because most of it is going into the pockets of governors and MCAs. And if the governors and MCAs disagree over how the money should be shared between them, then nothing gets done in that county.
Let’s get this straight. Nobody is trying to condone theft from public coffers here. But you can take it from me that none of these practitioners of intransigent righteousness are going to be jailed or barred from holding office. Even if some of these matters are already in court, it won’t happen because any attempt to prosecute these chaps will immediately turn them into heroes, and their re-election will be guaranteed.
What we really should be looking into is how to create enough safeguards, to seal all the loopholes, so that in the future, abuse of office at the county level will be very costly. Although one may quarrel with Mr Kalonzo Musyoka for saying that any future government run by the opposition will jail those guilty of such vices, Kenyans know that few county leaders are clean. The thing to do is to deter the crooks before they get the itch to steal.
There is no question that if the money periodically disbursed by the National Government was used with a modicum of transparency, most of our counties would be transformed into models. In short, if a third of the money transferred to the counties was not stolen or misappropriated, there would be no need for belligerent governors to keep seeking more from the seemingly inexhaustible pool that is the National Treasury.