President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive for all public officers to submit to lifestyle audits could be the game changer in the war against corruption.
Some high-profile court actions have already been launched, notably the National Youth Service ones, and more are expected from the endemic graft across the energy and agriculture sectors.
However, the history of ineptitude and corruption in the National Police Service, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Office of Director of Public Prosecution and the Judiciary must put a damper on high expectation of guilty verdicts and long prison sentences.
That is why, even as the justice mechanism grinds along, the President need to devise alternative methods to eject the lords of corruption from the heart of government and leadership.
Simply forcing public servants to account for their wealth could be a swift and very effective tool but first there must be the political will to give effect to the public pronouncement.
The President has already demonstrated that he will lead by example. The announcement that he will be the first to submit to a lifestyle audit, followed by his deputy William Ruto and his Cabinet, sends a powerful message that the directive applies to all without exception, irrespective of rank or seniority and political or family ties.
However, the President must now move without any delay to establish the mechanisms. Existing public service institutions are already tainted and don’t have the skills and capacity to launch and conclude the mammoth exercise within a reasonable time frame.
The longer it takes for the audits to get going, the more cynics will claim that the presidential announcement was a mere political gimmick never actually meant for implementation.
WAR ON CORRUPTION
The President has already got a lot of flak for the war on corruption that he launched in 2015, which, commendably, led to the exit of a sizeable number of Cabinet secretaries but otherwise achieved zero in convictions and recovery of stolen funds.
He can’t afford to risk the renewed war on graft, whose success is vital to rescuing a tainted legacy, being dismissed as just another fraud.
To keep the momentum, the bully pulpit of Executive power can be very useful.
An easy win can be in requiring that all CSs and other presidential and ministerial appointees sign waivers so that their wealth declaration forms are immediately made public. A longer-term bid would be to repeal the law that makes the declarations secret.
But nothing stops the President from demanding that those who serve at his pleasure submit themselves to such public scrutiny or find other jobs.
The President can lead by example and ask that other elected leaders, including MPs and county governors, to follow suit.
For sure, he would face stiff resistance but the war on graft is one where President Kenyatta must go above politicians and their self-interests and look directly to the public for support.
Serving out his final term, the President will quickly become a lame duck if he allows politicians to blackmail him.
However, he can turn the situation to his advantage by simply ignoring the obstructive political classes and transforming himself into the leader of a popular public insurrection against corruption.
Politicians follow the voters. Once they realise that a war against institutionalised graft enjoys fervent public backing, they will swiftly fall in line.
Beyond the regular legislator or governor mired in graft, however, another complication is in the war on corruption getting mired in succession politics. For some reason, supporters of Mr Ruto seem to be getting extremely nervous, seeing the campaign as aimed at halting the DP’s 2022 State House prospects.
While the DP publicly supports the war on corruption, his acolytes are all over the place on social media and at public rallies and private gatherings openly ridiculing President Kenyatta’s efforts. It is out in the open now that both the government and the governing Jubilee Party are deeply divided.
Many officers in State House, the Presidency and other strategic dockets, as well as a sizeable number of political leaders from President Kenyatta’s central Kenya strongholds, are queuing up to catch Mr Ruto’s eye on the presumption that he will be the next president.
They are positioning themselves for 2022, essentially switching allegiance from President Kenyatta, whom they take to be on the way out, and hitching their horses to Mr Ruto’s wagons. Those looking beyond President Kenyatta can hardly conceal the fact that they are not impressed by his anti-corruption war.
But President Kenyatta is not looking for their votes. He can safely ignore them and focus on what should be his one key agenda item for the next four years: Corruption.
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