Just when one thought they could no longer be astounded by the brazen corruption in Kenya, a scandal even more momentous and daring is exposed.
In the last two weeks, the extent of pillage that has been taking place in three public institutions has been laid bare.
At the National Youth Service (NYS), suppliers were paid Sh8 billion despite supplying nothing. An intricate web involving ghost companies in collusion with NYS officials at the Youth ministry conspired to steal billions of shillings.
It seemed to matter little that this was the very institution at the heart of another corruption scandal where the government payment portal was manipulated to make corrupt payments amounting to hundreds of millions.
Then enter the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) where merchants who own no farms supplied tens of thousands of bags of maize and were promptly paid amounts totalling Sh1.9 billion. The eight merchants were prioritised over 4,000 farmers who have supplied maize to NCPB and are still waiting for their payments half-a-year later.
The third case is the results of the internal audit that was carried out at Kenya Power Company. The audit revealed a scheme where officials of the company used fronts to prequalify themselves to become suppliers.
The question is simple. Who’s next and where will it stop? It looks like an avalanche — that there’s massive involvement by officials in parastatals, ministries and agencies to loot public resources. What is going on is sheer looting. People are behaving as if there’s a panic and want to grab whatever they can in the shortest time possible. Brace for more shocks.
Corruption is now an existential threat to the very existence of Kenya. The country cannot continue with these revelations about freewheeling enrichment by government officials in a country where there’s massive unemployment, dwindling opportunities and a harsh business environment. The storm is building.
However, in this cloud, there is a silver lining. In the life of every nation, there comes a time when an opportunity to correct long-standing wrongs presents itself. In politics, the tipping point was the 2007 post-election violence.
For corruption, the country has reached a tipping point. What is new?
The first is the sheer brazenness of the theft. The perpetrators are operating in utter impunity.
Secondly, the courts have finally found their calling in the battle against corruption. For the first time in a long time, a court has sent to jail serious public figures for corruption.
The jailing of former Nairobi Town Clerk John Gakuo, former Nairobi city Legal Secretary Mary Ng’ethe and former Local Government Permanent secretary Sammy Kirui, must have sent alarm bells ringing among those implicated in corruption cases.
It also must have sent a message to other judicial officers hearing corruption cases that some of their colleagues are ready to grab the tiger by the tail.
Third, there has been quick action by the Cabinet secretaries and Principal secretaries in the ministries involved. Crops Principal secretary Richard Lesiyampe has sent NCPB bosses packing to pave way for investigations while Public Service Cabinet secretary Margaret Kobia has sent all NYS staff working in procurement, accounting and finance departments on compulsory leave. The NYS Director General, Richard Ndubai, and Youth PS Lilian Omollo have stepped down to allow investigations.
Fourth, there has been a cleanup at the Directorate of Criminal investigations and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which seems to have given impetus to these offices.
The country is united in outrage. For once, there is no clamour about our tribe being finished or our man being persecuted politically.
It is time to clean up the Augean Stables. The biggest obstacle to fighting corruption has always been that the big fish could not be touched either because they were “connected at the highest levels” or they compromised detectives and judges.
What this battle now needs to move forward is a clear and consistent message from President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, that nobody will be spared whatever their “connections”. This will embolden those who have decided to take the fight to the corrupt. It is especially critical that the Judiciary convicts even more big names to convince Kenyans something is finally happening. This will also put the fear of God in officials who are carrying out “heists” of public funds.
The President remains the one person by virtue of his office, with the capacity to give this battle the impetus it needs through moral, spiritual and financial support. There is going to be pain, including throwing friends and allies under the bus, but this rot is so deep that pain is inevitable.
The moment for striking a death blow against corruption has arrived. The country must seize it!