We must not lose our integrity quest in appointive public office

We must not lose our integrity quest in appointive public office

By David Wanjala

The August 9, 2022 General Election has come and gone, and Kenyans are still taking stock of many issues regarding the process, the outcome, and the presidential petition in the apex court. Still, the one thing that will stick out, especially as regards the general public, is that we lost out on the integrity front.

Chapter Six of the Constitution prescribes leadership, ethics, and integrity standards for persons entrusted with public office. It is a unique innovation targeted at shielding public trust from abuse. It was enacted in the hope that it could reverse the culture of corruption and impunity, clean up our politics, and ensure only those who meet the integrity threshold occupy public office.

Because of the complexities in litigation that stretch the legal processes of removing individuals whose conduct has offended ethics and integrity principles from public office, it was hoped that the electorate would vet and reject candidates with questionable integrity at the ballot. Indeed, independent commissions and offices mandated with the responsibility to enforce Chapter Six requirements in State and Public Offices, including the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), carried out a concerted media campaign before elections enlisting the public in this noble undertaking. It was never heeded.

Besides, as a statutory requirement, the EACC identified 241 individuals that they considered to have fallen short of the moral and ethical standards for election to public office. This was following an integrity verification process of the 21,863 aspirants that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had forwarded them.

The list of 241 included the who’s who in the political dispensation with flagged integrity issues ranging from forged academic papers to financial impropriety of public funds. Most, if not all, on the list of 241 were facing either live investigations or prosecutions. There were even cases of convicts out on cash bail pending appeals. The IEBC, citing a puzzle in the anti-corruption legal regime, particularly articles 99 and 193 on qualifications and disqualifications on election to Parliament and the County Assemblies viz a viz Chapter Six, let a majority on the list off the hook. Unsurprisingly, most of them were either elected or re-elected.

Some of those State Officers have won their second terms with cases meant to remove them from office ongoing, underscoring the need for the collective media campaign by anti-graft bodies in the criminal justice system to enlist public support in the August 9 General Election.

That is water under the bridge now. There is a new political dispensation in place. One only hopes that the turbine of justice will keep turning in the ongoing investigations and prosecutions to a judicious conclusion.

Chapter Six does not, however, restrict itself to elective State Office. It also applies even more to State and appointive public offices. We are now in a phase where the new political regime is forming government at national and county levels. The principles of leadership, ethics, and integrity enshrined in Chapter Six that were largely ignored in the just concluded General Election should be reinforced.

Many elected leaders face integrity issues, making Kenya’s parliament what some commentators have termed a bandit legislature.

For instance, President William Ruto will soon announce his Cabinet at the National level. Already, a gazette notice for the call for applications for the office of principal secretary has been issued. Right after the formation of the Cabinet will come the office of the Chief Administrative Secretary. There are a host of other offices to be filled by this government, including in the ministries, commissions and independent offices foreign missions, and parastatals, just to mention a few.

Similarly, counties are also abuzz with recruitment activities. Newly elected governors are in the process of forming their cabinets. They will have to fill many other offices, including that of the County Secretary. 

Most, if not all, of these positions are State offices whose officers, according to Art. 73(2) should be appointed based on personal integrity, competence, and suitability. The officers will be key in policy formulations, whose implications will be far-reaching. They will also preside over expenditure of public funds; the importance of getting the right people as envisioned in Chapter Six of the Constitution cannot be gainsaid.

Government agencies with the mandate to clear prospective candidates for State and public offices, including Kenya Revenue Authority, Higher Education Loans Board, EACC, Directorate of Criminal Investigations, and ODPP, are currently hectic, clearing queues of Kenyans lining up for these jobs. This should not be in vain. 

Parliament, which will vet most of the appointments to state offices should not convert itself into a conveyor belt. The Public Service Board, the County Service Board, and any other recruiting public entities should place a premium on whatever information will emerge from these clearance processes about the applicants. They should allow the details from these vetting processes and any other statistics enhancing Chapter Six requirements on the applicants to inform their decisions.

It would be fatal if, as a nation, we lost our integrity quest in public service in the new political dispensation on both the elective and appointive office.

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