Kenya is reeling from a number of corruption scandals, among them National Cereals and Produce Board and the National Youth Fund.
Another National Youth Service (NYS) scandal identical in strategy and methods employed in the first, but 10 times bigger should have jolted public action by now.However, our passive reaction to these new allegations shows how corruption is fast getting normalised.
This, despite the fact that it remains one of the biggest challenges facing the country today as evidenced by the findings of the East Africa Bribery index 2017 Survey. In the survey, 83 per cent of the respondents described the levels of corruption as high.
This is reinforced by the 2017 global Corruption Perceptions Index, where Kenya scored 28 points out of the possible 100. Recent media reports that over Sh9 billion was lost at NYS should make every Kenyan furious.
In 2015, at least Sh791 million was lost at the same institution. It is quite evident that the scam is one of the biggest corruption scandals in the recent past.
It is even unfortunate that a scandal 10 times the first, would succeed using similar strategies exploiting same loopholes that should have been closed immediately the first scandal came out.
Three observations can be made about the scandals. First, they involve procurement for goods or services. Secondly, they succeed due to disregard for the rule of law, primarily procurement law and guidelines. Thirdly they involve collusion between private businesspeople, technical staff with indications of high-level political protection or patronage.
In the NYS scandals, for example, companies were paid huge sums of money for supplying nothing or goods at grossly exaggerated prices in the most blatant abuse of procurement processes. It is clear that companies were formed to aid the looting.
For instance, those implicated in the NYS scandal had companies registered in different names. Commercial banks were used to transact the money in seemingly gross violation of the banking regulatory framework. These should be punished for their role.
Similarly, the Central Bank’s role in allowing these transactions to continue unabated should be examined. How is it possible to transact all these amounts without any questions in a supposedly tight regulatory framework with clear guidelines?
The special audit report by the Office of Auditor General pointed out loopholes in the IFMIS system that allowed corruption a free hand. The 2015 assessment report by the EACC also indicated weaknesses in the procurement system that predisposed NYS to theft.
It recommended measures that were aimed at plugging the gaps in procurement and aligning the processes to the Public Procurement and Disposals Act. Unfortunately, there is no evidence any follow-up was done. Had the recommendations been followed, public resources would probably have been saved.
These scandals have put focus on the seriousness and commitment of anti-corruption agencies and the political leadership in the fight against graft.
Since President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation Address in 2016, there has been national consensus on how corruption is eroding the national fiber.
It has also brought to the fore the weak links between our investigative, prosecutorial and enforcement agencies in the fight against graft.
For example, while some of those implicated in corrupt dealings in the NYS scam have been prosecuted, only one has been found with a case to answer. Out of 24 suspects charged, 23 were acquitted. It is inconceivable that he only can bear the cost of the scandal.
Arrests in the NYS scandal are welcome. History has, however, shows that this is hardly anything to celebrate. Unless the failure of our institutions is addressed, legal processes risk being an unnecessary cost on a society that is already overburdened.
The true value of a legal system is deterrence. If the success rate for punishment and asset recovery is minimal, the deterrence value is diminished. It is, therefore, imperative that investigation and prosecution agencies deliver results.
It is also important to seal loopholes exploited by the corrupt. Every accounting officer should submit to relevant authorities a report on what they have done to identify corruption risk areas and how they have eliminated them.
While prosecution is important for a functional integrity system, it is insufficient to effectively deal with corruption. A preventive approach is by far the better strategy.
Finally, political goodwill will be key in the fight against corruption. The “Building Bridges to a New Kenyan Nation” document recognises corruption as an existential threat to the country as it is destroying lives, public trust and prosperity.
In his recent address to the 5th Devolution Conference and State of the Nation Address, the President reiterated this commitment to the nation. But true leadership is about action. If the corrupt are punished and the stolen assets confiscated, the war will be half-way won. It is time to act. —The author is the Executive Director, Transparency International Kenya — [email protected]