At one of the Nation Media Group-organised Governors Summit five years ago, a participant prophetically told governors that the legacy they needed to worry about was whether at the end of their tenure they could be retiring to jail or to accolades.
And he jokingly weighed in that on the basis of the current trend, many could be looking at an inglorious end.
The excellencies uncomfortably laughed it off, but it is turning out to be prescient prediction, even if only in the interim.
Spectacular arrests of Governors Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu), Evans Kidero (former Nairobi Governor), Okoth Obado (Migori) and Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) have been riveting curtain raisers of dramas.
In countries that take the corruption fight seriously, close to 90 per cent of our governors could have resigned by now and awaiting their conviction or acquittal.
In the case of governors, the cash is plenty, typically acquired through payments made to phantom companies for work not done.
Payments have been made to companies ostensibly owned by sons and daughters at universities!
Lawyers are only too happy for a share of the loot, citing the dogma that every man deserves his day in court. It is very helpful, of course, that in many instances, even those courts have been ensnared in the corruption web.
Back to that Governors Summit five years ago and the intervening reality, it seems apparent that the governors – just like the other beneficiaries of corruption – actually will have the last laugh.
The arrests are just necessary steps before the governors retire to happy contemplation and enjoyment of their loot, or deploy the loot to get higher office, and even greater access to loot and protection.
That is just how the system has been setup to work. In a sobering report released last week, the African Centre for Open Governance (AfriCog) defines the problem as that of state capture: state institutions have been repurposed – by politics and business – for private profiteering.
In this situation, oversight institutions like the offices of the Controller of Budget, the Auditor-General and parliamentary committees — must be “eviscerated and hollowed out” and made completely ineffectual.
Two, law enforcement agencies — the police, Judiciary and EACC — must be weakened and be redirected to fight political opponents as “weapons”.
Three, “political change and accountability through elections must be blocked” by compromising the electoral board or by violent intimidation of opponents.
And four, institutions that can assail these insidious trends – civil society organisations and the media – must be shrunk as to pose no threat.
This is the unhappy situation that Kenya finds itself in, and it does not matter at what level corruption is manifesting itself — at every layer, from the presidency right down to the constituency ward level — the capture works to reproduce itself.
The impunity that the county ward representatives demonstrate as they loot the county coffers is emboldened by the fact that the county speaker and the governor are fully aligned and complicit in the desecration.
This shameless avarice is replayed at the National Assembly because the process is well oiled – from parliamentary committees, to the Speaker Kamukunjis and entire floor of the House.
It is the reason why the Salaries and Remuneration Commission will never tame the greed of MPs over their salaries and perks.
It is why security-related procurement will always be opaque and why control of cash rich agencies like Kenya Pipeline, the Kenya Ports Authority and others in the transport and roads sector is highly coveted.
The deep roots of corruption and the state capture will not be uprooted by the frantic but directionless motion demonstrated by arrests and charges in courts.
It will take carefully coordinated efforts across a spectrum of organisations, which should form coalitions that, in the face of resistance, persist in laying the ground for attack by exploiting inevitable governance crises that result from such state capture: through reforms, prosecutions and even constitutional changes.
The AfriCog report diagnoses an almost terminal stage state capture and prescribes remedies. Kenyans should read it and act on it.
Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Media Group and is now consulting. [email protected] @tmshindi