This past week Kenyans have forcefully expressed their opinion on corruption in government. On Thursday they demonstrated across the country and rallied to speak about their disgust that government officials have grown so shameless that they are stealing huge amounts of money without even bothering to justify the expenditures. Revelations that dozens of officials paid billions of shillings to dubious characters in exchange for nothing at all served to heighten public anger against government, and even people formerly known only for effusive praise of government actions spoke out indicating that they had had enough.
The government reaction to the recent revelations of high-level corruption has been typical. The President, for the umpteenth time, issued “tough warnings” to all those involved in corrupt deals that their time is up. Visibly angry, he warned all those involved in illegal deals that they will be jailed and their property will be forfeited to the state, to be used in improving the quality of life of Kenyans. Unfortunately Kenyans are now inured to such tough talk, and only tangible action will convince them that the government is serious in its anti-corruption drive.
The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions also seemed to wake up from its long slumber, and arraigned dozens of Kenyans in court in relation to yet another scam at the National Youth Service (NYS) in which billions of shillings were paid even to persons who acknowledged that they had no idea what the money was for. The Principal Secretary and senior officials at NYS were arrested and charged, and the government argued successfully against their release on bail.
Unfortunately even this action has not convinced all critics. We are coming from a history of show trials that drag on for so long that our collective gnat-sized memory cannot remember what the problem was in the first place. In most such trials, the officials are often quietly acquitted and they resume “normal life”, even managing to compete successfully for public office. Many of us are convinced that this will be the outcome of these trials.
We expect that the prosecutions will be shoddy, that the evidence will be weak, that the suspects will retain stellar advocates, that the judges will be compromised, that something will somehow be made to go wrong in order to result in an acquittal. We fully expect that once that happens the entire Executive arm of government, and most of the Legislature, will go hammer and tongs after the Judiciary, accusing it of being an obstacle in the “war against corruption”. We know all this, yet we will watch the charade unfold and eventually make disappointed noises and move on with our lives. This is how corruption and impunity will continue to thrive in this country.
Our entire government system was set up to facilitate corruption, and unless it is completely reformed, no single action will make a dent on this vice. We have systematically ignored Chapter Six of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity, and allowed our top leadership to literally get away with murder while arguing about being “innocent until proven guilty”. We have elected idiots into Parliament forgetting that one of their functions is to ensure that the Executive is prevented from shafting the public. We have looked the other way when “our sons” bring home the loot from the public coffers.
Now our President says he is serious about fighting corruption. He must demonstrate this in action rather than in words. He needs to fire his senior officers implicated in corrupt deals. He needs to support the investigative and prosecutorial functions to ensure that watertight evidence is tendered to enable the Judiciary to convict the culprits. He needs to stop attacking the Judiciary, undermining its credibility and ability to deliver on its mandate. He needs to stop shouting and telegraphing his intentions on national TV.
The war against corruption will not be won by using the same old tired means that have been tried and defeated in the past. Mr President, enough is enough. End this charade, and let’s slay this dragon once and for all.
Atwoli is an associate professor and dean of Moi University School of Medicine. [email protected]