On August 26, 2006, former US President Barack Obama aptly captured the cost of corruption in Kenya in a speech which rattled the Kibaki government and sent shockwaves across the country.
Speaking at the University of Nairobi, the then little-known Illinois senator candidly stated that while corruption is a problem we all share, in Kenya it is a crisis. “A crisis that's robbing an honest people of the opportunities they have fought for – the opportunity they deserve.”
“It is painfully obvious that corruption stifles development – it siphons off scarce resources that could improve infrastructure, bolster education systems, and strengthen public health. It stacks the deck so high against entrepreneurs that they cannot get their job-creating ideas off the ground,” he went on.
He explained that corruption has a way of magnifying the very worst twists of fate as it makes it impossible to respond effectively to crises “whether it is the HIV/Aids pandemic or malaria or crippling drought”.
“What's worse, corruption can also provide opportunities for those who would harness the fear and hatred of others to their agenda and ambitions,” he said.
And in an apparent admission of the magnitude of corruption in the country, the government recently said graft has increased by close to 50 per cent in the last six years.
The figures, tabled through an affidavit drawn by Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, show corruption cases have been on a steady rise since 2012.
Dr Kibicho said in the sworn statement that it is public knowledge that Kenya has recently been faced with rampant corruption, which has led to the loss of billions of shillings.
“That corruption has been an escalating issue of concern is not in dispute. For instance, in its annual report for 2017/2018, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) received and analysed a total of 8,044 reports on corruption related complaints and allegations,” he said.
In May, 47 people, among them senior government officials including Youth Affairs PS Lillian Omollo and National Youth Service (NYS) Director-General Richard Ndubai, were charged with various counts including conspiracy to commit an economic crime and abuse of office over the loss of Sh469 million at NYS.
Last week, former Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) managing director Charles Ongwae and other senior officials of the agency were charged with illegal procurement of Sh882 million imports standardisation mark (ISM) stickers.
Mr Ongwae was also charged with attempted murder, abuse of office and breach of public trust over the clearance of substandard fertiliser into the country, charges they have denied. They were freed on bond.
In the 52-pargraph affidavit, Dr Kibicho details how the government should be allowed to tackle corruption head on.
The affidavit was made in support of the suspension of procurement officers to carry out an appraisal.
He said serious irregularities have been exposed in public procurement, including the fact that most of the mega corruption cases and scandals revolve around procurement. He cited the multi-billion-shilling NYS scandal among other cases.
The PS said there has been a drastic increase in corruption cases in the country over the years. He said between 2012 and 2013, there were 3,355 cases; 2013 and 2014 (4,006), 2014 and 2015 (5,660) and 2015-2016 (7,929).
Between 2016 and 2017 alone, EACC handled complaints and completed investigations relating to misappropriation of Sh2.9 billion by an accounting officer, he said.
On procurement, Dr Kibicho cited irregularities in the purchase of land by the National Housing Corporation valued at Sh400 million; claims of irregular award of a tender and payment to a company for the supply and commissioning of greenhouses in Kirinyaga county by the Youth Enterprise Development Fund valued at Sh300 million and allegations of irregular procurement of two passenger ferries by the Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) valued at Sh1.9 billion.
He has also pointed to the procurement of faulty machines for printing IMS stickers by Kebs worth Sh300 million; the irregular procurement of fire fighting equipment from a private firm by the NYS valued at Sh75 million and irregular award of tenders for the construction of a library and ICT resource centre valued at Sh65 million.
“It is important to appreciate that once a person becomes a public officer, they are open to scrutiny and the information to be disclosed by the heads of procurement and accounting units in ministries, departments and agencies and thereafter other public officers, is not prejudicial in any way and would be treated with utmost confidentiality,” said the PS.
Speaking to the Sunday Nation, Transparency International Executive Director Samuel Kimeu agreed that corruption has increased by a big margin, especially in the last 15 years.
“The impact manifests itself in many ways. In monetary terms, the amounts involved have increased and there are more and bigger projects, which create opportunities for the corrupt,” he said.
Mr Kimeu said corruption heavily impacts on mwananchi because the quality of services becomes poor and unaffordable. “The middle class will resort to private; they go to private hospitals, private schools and other private services. The poor have nowhere to go and some die of preventable diseases because they cannot afford treatment or the services offered in public hospitals are poor,” he said.
He further said big projects force the government to tax basic commodities to plug the shortfall in budgets and to repay the debts.
In his affidavit, Dr Kibicho pleaded with the court saying orders stopping the suspension of the circular to suspend procurement officers, immobilised the fight against corruption, yet it was in the interest of the public. The orders have since been lifted by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
He said the action taken by the government was legal and within the spirit of the Constitution as it is geared towards promoting national values and principles of governance in the management of public affairs.
“That without prejudice to the foregoing, I wish to further state that the President as the Head of State and Government is required under article 131 (2) to respect, uphold and safeguard the Constitution,” he said.
He defended the suspension of the procurement officers, stating that under section 7 of the State Corporations Act, the President may give directions of a general or specific nature to the State corporations with regard to the better exercise and performance of its functions.
He said the intended appraisal was not a disciplinary issue or a punishment but an inquiry into the records of the heads of procurement, their financial probity and integrity.
“With each passing day in which the government is prevented from undertaking an appraisal of the heads of procurement and accounting units in ministries, departments and agencies, corruption in the entire public sector remains un-tackled,” he said.