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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Do more to protect public defenders

The Maasai Mara University Council ironically dismissed CPA Spencer Sankale Ololchike six days before the world celebrated International Whistle Blower Day this week. Their action gives us another moment to reflect on how well public institutions and governments are being managed as the National Assembly debates how to use our taxes.

CPA Spencer Sankale Ololchike caught the nation’s attention with the sensational “Mara Heist” expose in 2019. While he was not the only whistle blower who grew tired of seeing the University’s resources disappear into the pockets of administrators, he was the one that went public. Convinced by their evidence, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions pressed charges against former Vice Chancellor Prof. Mary Walingo, Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Administration, Finance and Planning Simon ole Seno, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic and Student Affairs John Obere, Finance Officer Anaclet Biket Okumu and the Vice Chancellor’s Driver Noor Abdi. The case is now in court, Sankale and the other whistle blowers are now state witnesses.

Last week, the University Council Chairperson summarily dismissed Sankale, citing several grounds including “insolence”. Now public, the Chairperson’s letter is attracting national public condemnation and Narok based academic, human rights and accounting professionals. 2,500 Kenyans have signed the #Justice4CPASankale petition. The National Assembly is discussing the matter and Senior Counsel from Lumumba and Lumumba Advocates are now representing Sankale pro bono.

According to the dismissal letter, Sankale will receive only one month-notice pay before he is jobless. In contrast, the five co-accused have been on half-pay, health cover, pension and in the case of former Vice-Chancellor, personal security, since the Kshs 177 million corruption case started in August 2020. If Chapter 6 was a person, could you imagine her face now?

If active patriotic professionals like Sankale are essential for stopping corruption for 12,000 students and university administrators then comprehensive, accessible, and timely information is also necessary for millions to enjoy quality public services. The recent release of the International Budget Partnership Kenya 2020 Budget Transparency Survey for all 47 County Governments gives us another insight into this. On average, County Governments scored a miserable 33 per cent on their disclosure of budget information to their citizens.

Very few counties including Laikipia, West Pokot, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Makueni, Nyeri and Samburu publish key documents like their programme-based budgets, fiscal strategies or the budget implementation reports. Narok, the county of the scandal plagued Maasai Mara University, is not one of them. Nor are Nairobi, Kilifi or Mandera counties who enjoy the lion’s share of national taxes. It is noteworthy that counties like Elgeyo Marakwet and Laikipia who have superior levels of budget information disclosure receive much less public funding.

Thirty-three per cent performance is too low to create a culture of integrity that can make the most use of the limited public finances we have for the coming financial year. Citizens must demand more from both county governments and public institutions. The Council of Governors, Offices of the Controller of Budget and the Auditor General of Kenya must read and act on the implications of 2020 Budget Transparency Survey. Lastly, we all could do more to protect public defenders.

If corruption is unpatriotic, then whistle blowers are the nation’s true patriots.

opinion was also published in myin my Sunday Standard weekly column of 27 June 2021


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