Electoral commission failed us by clearing tainted candidates
First published Sunday Standard, June 4, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group
For some, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s clearance of leaders with an unethical past this week was inevitable. Faced with repeated disappointments, it is easier on the emotions not to expect the future will be different. For the rest of us, our faith in our electoral system just suffered a crack and we must choose what to do next.
The establishment of the Chapter Six Working Group a month ago raised expectations that leadership integrity would underpin the upcoming General Elections. The last two weeks has seen a vigorous national conversation on whether a criminal or ethical standard would guide the Working Group’s vetting of candidates. Many Kenyans urged the IEBC, EACC and the Chapter 6 vetting agencies to put a clean list before the Kenyan voter in August.
The record of some of the most powerful and populist politicians found themselves under public scrutiny. The Senate Public Accounts and Investment Committee, a Cabinet Secretary, the Cabinet Bishops, media editors, civic organisations and many citizens called for the IEBC to apply an ethical standard. Early this week, the National Integrity Alliance’s #RedCard20 became 87 when the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission submitted a list of 18 Governors, 4 Senators, 3 Women Representatives, 25 Members of Parliament and 37 Members of County Assembly.
Most of the politicians have dismissed this attention as the work of their detractors, political opponents and busy-bodies without mandates. One was mis-advised by his lawyer to sue for character defamation. Another more impressively exercised his right to reply and robustly responded to the allegations. Despite all this, in what could be one of the darkest moments in the history of Chapter Six, the IEBC has proceeded to clear nearly of the individuals on the EACC list. Unless, some of the clearances are revoked, this could be a disappointing end to an impressive set of integrity stress testing events.
Why is integrity testing important for our electoral democracy? Afro-barometer research suggests we are all about to check out or get really rebellious. Less than 25% of our younger citizens are committed to governance and public affairs. Army, religious and traditional leaders are now trusted more than elected leaders. Protests and riots are up tenfold and electoral violence has occurred three times more in this decade than in the last. Sadly, we live in a time of unprecedented contempt or praise for political leaders. Yet, neither leader vilification or glorification leaves us or them with new openings for raising the integrity bar.
We need to ask ourselves as citizens, when did we cross the ethical line? When did it become okay to justify and rationalize unethical behavior? That it is okay to bully and beat our children when they don’t do as we demand? That it is okay to use the company’s time and resources to do private business? That despite the explicit advice of the EACC, we may still vote for leaders unable to protect public monies. Until we are willing to throw five hundred banknotes back in the face of candidates, we are vulnerable.
As leaders, when did you cross the ethical line? When did it become okay to amass unimaginable wealth using public resources? When did the argument that you have accomplished so much and that corruption is not hurting anyone begin to make sense? When did your word become a tool to manage public expectations and not one that holds you accountable? How did your personal integrity become the cat and mouse legal game in our courts? Until you are willing to apologize, seek forgiveness and rebuild public trust in your leadership you will always be vulnerable.
Ultimately, the power lies with the electorate. Six incumbent Governors and 21 MPs were sent home during the primaries. Voters have tasted their power and exercised well could still produce the collective leadership we need. To elect unethical leaders would be like planting lemon trees on August 8 and expecting to harvest bananas in future. We cannot allow those that seek our mandate to govern enter our house with dirty feet.
The next episode in Chapter Six is about to written but it is only us who can determine whether it will a repeat episode or the premiere of a new season.