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The folly with vetting Processes in Kenya

Sunday March 23 2014

Bitange Ndemo

Bitange Ndemo 

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In the past few years Kenya has witnessed vetting of public servants.  The more prominent ones have been the Judiciary and the Police. 

The first purge of judicial vetting was christened surgical reforms in the Judiciary.  Although the exercise is complete at the Court of Appeal as well as the High Court, the perception of corruption within the reformed judiciary lingers.  This was predictable. 

In modern predictive analytics, it is easier to foresee an event and take a different course to avoid wasting scarce resources.  Even without use of science a few questions would have helped us avoid what would eventually become an embarrassment. We should have sought to know for example, whether those vetting were vetted.  How will one differentiate witch hunt from genuine accusation? Does a public servant have any right to privacy? What are the consequences of discharging without pay highly trained ammunition users?


I am aware that these processes were necessary to curb corruption but my argument is that we should have thought through to design a better mechanism than creating layers of corruption in the quest to fight corruption.   For example the process of removing the Deputy Chief Justice was fair and clearly acted as a deterrent for any future misbehavior.  This was not the same as the wholesale condemnation of career judges and policemen.   It will be far much cheaper retiring these people with their pension instead of dishonorable discharge.

If indeed we’re interested in treating the cancer of corruption, we should have looked into the larger population instead of trying to superficially deal with the sample that is resident in the Judiciary and Police.  It is emerging now that the Judiciary may be more corrupt today than it was before the surgery. 


Most successful countries have dealt with corruption as soon as it is discovered.  In 2001 for example, the Enron scandal revealed that its executives were using accounting loopholes, special purpose entities, and poor financial reporting, to hide billions of dollars in debt from failed deals and projects.  Within one year from date of corruption discovery, the perpetrators were in jail. 

In early December 2008, the Madoff investment scandal broke. Its chairman, Bernard Madoff admitted that the wealth management arm of his business was an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Federal authorities arrested Madoff on December 11, 2008. On March 12, 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal crimes and admitted to operating the largest Ponzi scheme in history. On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison with restitution of $17 billion.  The point I am trying to make here is the speed at which other countries take action on corruption.


Contrast these two cases and our own Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg.  The two particularly have dragged on for more than 10 and 20 years respectively.  Witnesses have died.  Files have been burnt.  Systems have changed and due to time some witnesses have forgotten.  This is a classic case where justice has been delayed and denied.  It does not make any economic sense to pursue such cases.  Rather we should draw a line in the sand that from today, corruption matters would be handled within set time periods.  Obviously the cases in court should continue to their logical conclusions.

Bribe-taking policemen, judges and other public servants can be arrested one by one and within a few months the strategy will become a major corruption deterrent.  In the first few weeks of the Kibaki administration such exercises started randomly but dissipated for lack of clear leadership.  

This was significant because it was a demonstration that indeed the citizens know and see corruption.  And if need be, it can be dealt with.  This means therefore that it is society that can rid itself the scourge of corruption.  And if it is extended to private sector corruption, we shall have changed our country for the better.

Since the past is eating too much into our future, it is my considered opinion that the legal frameworks on vetting be revised.  They were created on the basis that there would be some honest people to sit on vetting committees.  Anyone who has keenly followed the processes will tell you something is amiss.  Media has begun to poke holes in the glaring inconsistencies.

And if claims of bribery in parliament during the vetting of senior public officials are true, then our country is in serious crisis.  I say this because those who bribe will seek to recover their “investments”.  This is what creates grand corruption.  There is no need for us to bury our heads in the sand when such information is in the public domain.  It becomes the foundation of corruption.


In the meantime, we should roll out a major anti-corruption education programme targeting both children (Kindergarten to primary schools) and young adults (high schools to universities).  Public sector workers including the parliaments too must undergo compulsory ethics courses.  The aim is to discourage cultural practices that encourage corruption.  The nuances of gifting in the African context are heavily laden with the expectations of quid pro quo.  The idea that jobs are given to the community and that the job holder should reciprocate to the community is in itself corruption and should be discouraged.

There is need for government to develop a religious policy.  A keen observer of the Kenyan religious landscape will tell you that retired criminals are opening up new and corrupt outfits in the name of God.  Just open your television on Sunday morning and watch a “preacher” asking for money in return of God’s favour. 

Most of these churches are located in poor neighbourhoods where the majority are in no position to differentiate between real and bogus servants of God.  During weekdays these so-called preachers (most of them refer to themselves as Reverend) are in public offices seeking favours in the name of the Almighty God.  It is no wonder that Karl Marx said that religion was the opium of the poor.  It is only government that can stop this private sector extortion. 

We need broader measures to deal with corruption. It is with such sensitivities that we can live up to the promise of our National Anthem – justice be our shield and defender – not character assassination without due regard of individual liberties as espoused in the Constitution or pennies to serve.

“Never mind the milk, comrades!" cried Napoleon, placing himself in front of the buckets. "That will be attended to. The harvest is more important. Comrade Snowball will lead the way. I shall follow in a few minutes. Forward, comrades! The hay is waiting."

So the animals trooped down to the hayfield to begin the harvest, and when they came back in the evening it was noticed that the milk had disappeared.”

― George Orwell, Animal Farm.

Dr Ndemo is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Business School, Lower Kabete Campus. He is a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication. Twitter: @bantigito