On corruption, there is always an ‘unseen hand’ pulling the strings

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Philip Kinisu, Embattled EACC chairman

By Phoebe Nadupoi

We have, to some extent, come to appreciate the ins and outs of corruption. Whenever anti-corruption agencies reveal names of individuals or companies behind certain corrupt dealings in Kenya, we demand to know the real names behind them. But the real culprits are always incognito. There is the unseen hand that orchestrates all the operations that deliver the desired outcome or if you like, the looting. As such, big time graft is not that straightforward. It is for this reason that conflict of interest and trading in influence (for some jurisdictions) is such a big deal.

For some time now, the chairperson of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) Philip Kinisu has been fighting to redeem his reputation over corruption allegations.  Specifically, he is struggling to ward off accusations bordering on conflict of interest – that he transacted business with an institution he was investigating for loss of the neat sum of Sh791 million. Methinks it will be difficult for Kinisu to wriggle out of this one. It will be an uphill task to persuade Parliament that he was objectively overseeing investigations on the mega corruption case against the National Youth Service (NYS) when his family has pocketed millions from the same institution. And even if he were neutral, who will believe him? Although he has argued that he resigned before taking up his assignment as EACC head, the fact remains his family (wife) is a director of the company. Such a scenario presages conflict of interest, a common feature of corruption.

Section 16(6) of the Leadership and Integrity Act is clear on what constitutes conflict of interest. It “includes the interest of a spouse, child, business associate…” Come to think of it, drawing a line between what a husband and wife own as individuals within the institution of marriage is difficult. Conflict of interest is a corruption offence under the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act of 2003.

Besides conflict of interest, corruption is also perpetrated through trading in influence – one of the offences spelt out in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The convention requires signatories to develop comprehensive frameworks for fighting corruption. Despite being the first country to sign and ratify the convention on December 9, 2003, Kenya is yet to fully comply; trading in influence is not a criminal offence.

There are two main areas where trading in influence has facilitated corruption in Kenya: procurement and employment. A considerable number of people have specialised in influence peddling and this has cultivated the culture of what is now commonly known as tenderpreneurs. And it is catching on.

In respect to the NYS case, for instance, Josephine Kabura – a hairdresser – won multi-million contracts simply because of her relationship with then cabinet secretary for Devolution and Planning Anne Waiguru. The script is no different when it comes to employment: many have “thrived” on account of their connections as opposed to merit. It is an open secret many people have secured employment and even promotions because they know the boss or somebody in some high places.

Back to Kinisu, it is difficult, in my view, to say he is beyond reproach. There is a certain level of leadership that once a person acquires, they will have no option but to live up to the dictates of that position or office. If you are the head of an anti-graft agency, you, for example, delink yourself from anything that may bring disrepute to the office you hold.

Three things need to happen to cure this problem. To begin with, there is need to deal with those who peddle their influence. Enforcement agencies need to tighten the noose to make graft unattractive. Public resources stolen by the corrupt must be recovered, otherwise the thieves will serve their jail terms or/and pay fine and go back to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth.

Secondly, we need to relook the vetting procedures. Are they ineffective or it is just that we gloss over the set procedures? Whereas Kinisu did not find it necessary to point out that the he was trading with NYS, those conducting the vetting should have noted and interrogated that. Finally, there is need to amend the law to make trading in influence an offence.

As long as it is business as usual, the corrupt will invent ways to continue engaging in their trade at the detriment of the nation.

Writer is a communications practitioner;
E-mail: pnadupoi@gmail.com

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