President Uhuru Kenyatta has recently launched a spirited war against sleaze, enlisting citizens and civil society in the campaign.
He seems determined to move beyond rhetoric, presumably because runaway graft can abort his Big Four Agenda and even negate development.
Just like war can vanquish a country, so can corruption. Arguably, the President can confront the lords of graft because in his public life he has not been associated with the vice.
In 1993, the Centre for Law and Research International, an NGO I was working with, published a book, The Anatomy of Corruption in Kenya, in which we chronicled Kenya’s corruption story.
Between then and now, our history is a continuum of staggering misappropriation scandals. Turkwel dam syndicate, the Goldenberg scam, Navy ships saga, Anglo Leasing scandal, the Grand Regency Hotel rip-off, the maize and Triton Oil scams of 2009, and the 2012 Foreign Affairs officials’ sale of public land in Japan.
Recently, scandals galore have been brought to the fore such as in NYS, NHIF, KPC, NPCB, and KPLC. The amounts involved are mind-boggling.
Citizens have wondered how such colossal amounts of money can be siphoned from the National Treasury and the country stays afloat.
From 1963 to 2002, corruption raged unabated despite the multiplicity of anti-corruption laws passed to tame the vice.
The Prevention of Corruption Act of 1956 was the first major law to address corruption. However, it was dubbed “a horse without a rider” because prosecutions under it were scanty. The war against corruption was a mock fight.
Despite existence of recent constitutional provisions, other laws and international instruments, the fight against corruption in Kenya has never until now picked momentum.
Anti-corruption institutions were not, until recently, established to rein in corruption. They were institutions of convenience. Anytime their officers began to bite they were routinely destabilised.
How have other African countries dealt with corruption? Are there success stories on the continent?
Botswana and Rwanda are currently ranked ahead of Italy, Greece and Hungary in the fight against corruption. Botswana is also perceived better than Spain.
The leaders of these two African countries have demonstrated unwavering political will to slay the corruption dragon.
Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana’s first leader, lived a modest life while in office. He emphasised public office was not a conduit of illegitimate gains.
His policy of zero tolerance to corruption led to the prosecutions of prominent ministers and officials, among whom two were his relatives.
In Rwanda, Paul Kagame ensures anti-corruption laws are strictly enforced. Those found guilty are punished and dismissed from public office. Public officials must disclose their assets on an annual basis.
In both these countries, the top leadership supports anti-graft measures including providing the requisite budgets and personnel.
A single, relatively independent anti-corruption body is also responsible for the war against corruption.
Let us also consider the example of Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s prime minister for four decades, led the initial graft war from the front.
The country’s slogan was, “You want to fight corruption? Then, be ready to send to jail your friends and relatives”.
Singapore established a strong Bureau of Corruption Investigation which could check bank accounts and property of officials and also those of their close family and friends.
The high and mighty could face prosecution. In 1975 minister Wee Toon Boon was convicted of corruption and sentenced to a jail term for a personal trip paid by a contractor, receipt of a house as a gift and a loan by the contractor to his father.
In 1960, Singapore passed a law which could allow authorities to scrutinise the lifestyle of a public servant who was suspected of living beyond his or her means.
However, public servants are paid well so as to ensure there is no excuse to get involved in corruption. So what is the way forward for the war against corruption in Kenya?
The President must sustain the political will exhibited so far.
The legal institutions charged with fighting the sleaze - such as prosecutors and judicial institutions - must be independent, objective and non-political.
If the graft war is linked to the objective of vanquishing political enemies, then it will be lost before it starts.
The corruption fight cannot simply be won through prosecutions alone. Citizens must be subjected to robust civic education on policies, laws and other anti-corruption measures.
They must be mobilised so that they can become the vanguard for waging the war against corruption.
Citizens must see themselves as the integrity police on behalf of the state and their country. If citizens refused to give bribes and public servants can’t steal from the national and county treasuries, then corruption will be drastically reduced.
Those who work in the public system should accept more scrutiny over their lives.
When those seeking 'high' offices appear before interviewing panels, they declare their wealth. Each annual wealth and liability declaration can be made public.
Our anti-graft law needs to incorporate lifestyle audits when there is suspicion that a public servant is living beyond his or her means.
All current anti-corruption ordinary laws should be amalgamated into one piece of legislation to secure ease of implementation. Public procurement laws also need to accommodate open contracting to ensure greater accountability in doing business with government.
Given the pervasiveness of graft in Kenya, it is necessary to also explore the option of declaring amnesty to some of those who confess their misdeeds, return an agreed sum of money to the appropriate integrity institution or the court during plea bargaining.
However, after they return the negotiated proceeds to the state, they should henceforth be helped to invest in productive sectors, not merely housing or money laundering-type activities.
The fight against corruption must involve all sectors of the society. We must change our value system and mindset to appreciate that stealing public wealth is a crime against humanity.
The corruption industry will viciously fight back. It is therefore necessary to wage a sustained war against the scourge so as to guarantee Kenya’s renewal and future prosperity.
Prof Kibwana is the Governor of Makueni County.