Uhuru must slay dragon of impunity to cement his legacy
Wednesday’s lengthy State of the Nation address departed from past Presidential addresses in two ways. With Orange Democratic Movement and Jubilee still shaking hands there were no flying water bottles, wrestling, and jeers. Pre-occupied with the COVID-19 response, infrastructural and essential services projects, the original C word - corruption - got a single mention. Has corruption been crushed or was the issue of leadership integrity socially distanced from the President’s speech?
State of the Nation addresses are important moments in parliamentary accountability. President Kenyatta has used the past seven addresses to highlight key national issues, signal his administration’s priorities and inspire a national focus. With our news headlines abuzz with SonkoLeaks, Kenya Football Federation, collapsing sub-standard buildings, cases stuck in anti-corruption courts and easy to purchase vaccine certifications, it is unclear why State House intentionally skirted this virus while the President held national attention.
The fight against corruption is at another Damascus moment. Cases are stalling in our courts, new amendment bills are in the National Assembly and political aspirants are actively planning state capture through the ballet. Despite all this, there are few signs that the nation will experience, like Paul in the Book of Acts, a sudden, radical change in our attitudes towards impunity or leadership integrity.
The optimism created by the List of Shame Presidential Address in 2015 has all but faded for most. Most would be surprised to know that address did signal an accelerated pace in prosecuting State Officers for abusing their offices. Revitalised and energetic leadership in the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, Directorate of Criminal Intelligence, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions increased state efforts to investigate and prosecute criminals on government payroll.
Tragically, the sheer number of cases involving Cabinet and Principal Secretaries, County Governors and their officers has not led to many convictions or acquittals. Cases endlessly bounce around our courts fuelled by delaying and legalistic tactics that block justice. Recently, lawyers for former PS Lillian Amolo evoked section 62.1 of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act to argue she should be acquitted as the case had passed the two-year deadline set in the law. Other lawyers in multi-million corruption cases are now falling suit.
Fortunately, the state has become more emboldened in seizing assets and freezing proceeds of economic crimes since 2015. Recently, the EACC successfully seized forty properties, eight cars and over KES 58 million from Kenya Electricity Transmissions Company employee Peter Njihia and his wife. This practise and the banning State Officers from holding public office for the duration of their cases must continue to be applied fairly and firmly.
Barely sworn in Nairobi Governor Ann Kananu and the Nairobi County Assembly jointly committed a colossal error of judgement last month. They respectively nominated and approved Paul Mutungi as Deputy Governor while he is currently before Milimani Anti-Corruption court. As a former Chief of Staff, he faces several counts of money-laundering, unlawful acquisition, and handling of public property. The Governor and County Assembly must reconsider his nomination or risk sending a message that they are intentionally handing over resources meant for 5 million people to one corruption suspect. Stay at home policies worked to slow down COVID-19, why would they not also work with state officers facing formal corruption charges in a court of law?
President Kenyatta’s leadership was needed in the National Assembly this week to whip handshaking MPs to support Hon. Opiyo Wandayi’s amendments to the Elections Act and the Leadership and Integrity Act. He could also have cautioned the Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee from bills that hide campaign donors and expenditure from the public.
The theme of International Anti-Corruption Day on 10 December 2021 is citizens speaking and acting against corruption. Perhaps the President could publicly support these amendments, rally whistle-blowers, and acknowledge the many investigators, prosecutors and judges who criminalise corruption and promote leadership integrity daily? Or is this, as a legacy project, too much to ask for?
This opinion was also published in the Saturday Standard on 4 December 2021