The most cynical comment about Kenya’s anti-corruption efforts is that the big fish are never exposed and even when they are, they are never investigated. And if they are investigated, they are never prosecuted. Should they ever get their day in court, they almost always get acquitted. This cynicism is not unfounded, examples are abound to back it.
Which is why this week’s conviction of a former Permanent Secretary, a former Town Clerk and several senior officials of defunct Nairobi City Council came as something of a surprise to many.
Kenyans are used to token conviction of faceless, junior officers while the people who pull the strings and reap the loot in mega financial scandals go scot free. And even then, these—the tokens—are few and far between.
Often, corruption cases end up in acquittals, thanks to shoddy investigations or prosecution presenting hopelessly weak cases. Cases can also drag on for ages as flush defendants use all manner of legal tricks to ensure the conclusion of cases are delayed for as long as a looter’s money can buy.
While it is too early to be optimistic, the Tuesday conclusion of the infamous cemetery land scandal case is hopefully the turning point in Kenya’s nonstarter crusade against graft and impunity. It may not be much, but it is a starting point.
Kenyans would like to see even bigger fish being called to account for their misdeeds. While the jailing or fining of senior civil servants and parastatal chiefs for corruption is uncommon, many of them have been prosecuted, mainly as the fall guy, over financial scandals in their departments.
Although Principal Secretaries, and Permanent Secretaries before them, are often fired and charged in court when corruption is reported in their ministries, prosecution of Cabinet secretaries, and ministers before them, is rare. This should change.
As the overall head of ministries and State Corporations under them, Cabinet members should shoulder the biggest responsibility for whatever goes wrong in their departments, including being answerable to loss of public resources.
It’s also true that most big corruption cases are hatched not by career civil servants, but by politicians and the networks in the graft underworld. This is the engine of corruption that must be dealt with if the fight against graft is to succeed.
And the only way to smash the evil network is to ensure the law ruthlessly applies to everyone, their status in society notwithstanding. From the whistle-blowing, investigation, prosecution and trial stages, the law should be seen to work without fear or favour. That is the only way to end impunity and the shameless theft of public resources it breeds.