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Monday, December 11, 2023

Redeeming the economy means fixing our failing anti-corruption war


Last year, Sh5.8 billion was flagged by the Auditor-General as unsupported expenditure. Ministries and Departments could not account for Sh3.2 billion, and Sh2.58  of donor-funded projects was unaccounted for.

President William Ruto’s advisers have often said, in response to graft in government, said the president did not get to power by promising to end graft. In some ways, this has been taken as a admission that the Kenya Kwanza government will tolerate corruption if it does not threaten the country’s wellbeing beyond the scale it already does. Only it is abundantly clear that is the case.

 It is this realisation – if it can be called that – that perhaps recently led the head of state to, almost as an afterthought,  declared war on corruption, promising to wage a ruthless war on corrupt officials. The culmination of it all happened in the morning of Thursday, September 21, when top government officials gathered at Kenya School of Government in Kabete for a self-righteous dress down from the head of civil service, Felix Koskei, for proliferating corruption in public service. In itself, this is hardly news.

Koskei’s one-hour address painted a picture of rampant corruption in the regime where senior state officials spend official working hours plotting to steal, share the loot, and devise ways to stay longer in the offices where they can steal more while leaving critical public services in limbo and driving Kenya’s economy into turmoil. 

 Koskei told his stunned – but evidently not surprised audience – that audits had revealed such widespread graft that it is essentially difficult to pinpoint corruption in the government because it had ‘permeated everywhere.’

The meeting, which was also meant to start an ambitious ‘zero audit fault ‘ regime for the financial year ending June 2024, kicked off a reward scheme to encourage civil servants to maintain clean records and eradicate corruption.

According to the Auditor-General, procurement-driven corruption is the most deeply rooted form of graft in the government.

According to Auditor General Nancy Gathungu, procurement-driven corruption is the most deeply rooted form of graft in the government. In the Financial year ending 30th June 2022, Sh5.8 billion was flagged by her office as unsupported expenditures. Ministries and Departments could not account for Sh3.2 billion while Sh2.58 of donor-funded projects was unaccounted for.

Corruption is also to blame for the ballooning pending bills that hit Sh504 billion while stalled projects that had sunk Sh77 billion and stagnated with up to Sh150 billion.

Another recent report by the Auditor-General reveals that Africa loses more to illicit financial flows than the annual Official Development Assistance (ODA) that the continent receives. According to the Economic Development in Africa Report 2020 by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Africa is estimated to lose about $88.6 billion, or 3.7 percent of its GDP, annually in illicit financial flows with corruption being one of the four key contributors.

This has been made worse in the recent past by disasters and pandemics whose interventions have been exploited by those in charge to siphon public money.

If the problem before us feels deep and vast, that is because it is. This is why the government should not attempt to go it alone. Instead, the government can build a coalition of citizen monitors – besides official anti-graft agencies, which are often compromised – to embark on a wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign and actually act on tips and intelligence that citizens provide. What good are new laws or enhanced enforcement to fight money laundering in the United States if money can be easily moved to European banks?

If such a campaign were made a priority, in recognition of the importance of an anti-corruption republic – sort of a whole-of-government approach to anti-corruption – that war would begin to take shape and quickly catch up. Just as important, civil society organizations and journalists are perhaps the most vital soldiers in the crusade against corruption. They are often the most familiar with the actors involved and are often the most knowledgeable on the social norms and institutional forces that can be leveraged to shame or prosecute perpetrators. Greater trust and resourcing will make these groups more effective.

Kenyans are paying the price of unchecked corruption, but that is not all; rampant corruption threatens Kenyans’ aspiration for a working, self-sustaining economy and we’d do well to seize this watershed moment to fight back against corruption and the perpetrators who thrive off it. (

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