As President Mwai Kibaki faces the sun-set of his long political career, the perception that he failed to end corruption has persisted because of factual evidence that points to one of the most rotten regimes in Kenya’s history. In a new series at KSB, Jared Odero, a Kenya-Stockholmer, walks readers through the murky corridors of corruption in Kibaki’s Kenya with special focus on Free Primary Education, a great initiative which collapsed during Kibaki’s leadership because of 100% tolerance of corruption in high office.
“Corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya and I call upon all those members of my government and public officers accustomed to corrupt practice to know and clearly understand that there will be no sacred cows under my government.”
Those were President Kibaki’s words during his inaugural speech on December 30, 2002. However, as he heads towards the end of his second term in 2012, this pledge has come to naught, since corruption remains all high in Kenya. Kibaki’s hands-off model of governance has only added to the perfunctory measures by various institutions and officers assigned to eradicate it. This piece focuses on the mega-scandal involving huge sums of money looted in the provision of free primary education (FPE), and confirms Kibaki’s failure in the war against corruption.
An entry in encyclopedia.com summarizes key aspects of corruption scandals during Kibaki’s first term as president: “Moi had bequeathed a foundering economy isolated from the international community”. Citing endemic corruption, the IMF had, apart from a few months in 2000, frozen its funding to Kenya since 1997, and other bilateral and multilateral donors had consequently done the same. Kibaki’s pledge to turn the economy around meant restoring investor confidence and encouraging the resumption of international aid—and so was intimately linked to his pledge to crack down on corruption.
Towards the end of 2003, international donors had resumed aid and lending, citing Kibaki’s tough stance on corruption and judicial reform. In the first two months of Kibaki’s rule, the equivalent of US $198 million stolen from public coffers was recovered. Investigations led to the suspension of a number of judges and magistrates accused of bribery and related offences. Kibaki’s government opened an inquiry into the notorious Goldenberg affair—a high-profile scandal in the early 1990s involving non-existent companies, fabricated claims, and central bank payments of billions of dollars in compensation for fake export credits for gold and diamond. It was this investigation in particular that was meant to convey the message that the top echelons within Kenyan government apparatus would no longer be able to plunder the state with impunity.
Despite early signs of improvement, however, high-level sleaze, corruption and mistrust continued to characterize the economic and political landscape during Kibaki’s presidency. In a move that was perceived by many as proof of his commitment to stamp out corruption, Kibaki appointed John Githongo as chief anti-corruption investigator. In 2004, less than two years later, Githongo announced his resignation during a trip to the United Kingdom, days after the British High Commissioner had caused a diplomatic storm accusing Kenyan government officials of “eating like gluttons” and “vomiting on the shoes of foreign donors,” as quoted by Neil Ford writing for African Business. Githongo claimed that he had been prevented from investigating the activities of high-ranking officials in Kibaki’s government and a dossier he had earlier prepared exposed the Anglo-Leasing scandal, which involved approximately $20 million. The scandal was linked to a passport computer system and when it exploded, the exposure led to the resignation of a number of Kibaki’s ministers while some money flows from the United States and Germany were suspended.
Kenya among most corrupt countries
According to the latest Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index 2011 launched on 1st December 2011, Kenya was ranked 154 out of the 182 countries surveyed. The Grand Coalition Government’s zero-tolerance policy on corruption had only improved marginally by scoring 2.2 per cent compared to 2.1 per cent in 2010. Kenya’s TI Executive director Samuel Kimeu viewed the marginal progress as follows: “This is an indication that reforms catalyzed by the new Constitution have not yielded dividends in the fight against corruption. The lack of progress in tackling graft can still be attributed to lack of political will and the slow pace of reforms in critical sectors, despite implementation of the Constitution.”
Corruption, which is an impediment to socio-economic growth, is spiraled by weak institutions and political leadership. Key corruption scandals cited by Kimeu during Kibaki’s tenure were: “Anglo Leasing, Nairobi City Council cemetery, Free Primary Education funds, Ministry of Water scams, and Kazi Kwa Vijana money.” Other audit reports on mega-scandals have included the KSh425 million maize theft, the KSh7 billion oil scandal and the secret sale of the Grand Regency Hotel (undervalued at KSh2.5 billion), among many others. In a Wikileaks cable realeased in 2010 and published in spiegel.de, Kenya was described as: “A swamp of flourishing corruption extending across the country.”
When the then Senator Obama delivered a speech at Nairobi University in 2006, he mentioned that: “It is painfully obvious that corruption stifles development – it siphons off scarce resources that could improve infrastructure, bolster education systems, and strengthen public health. It stacks the deck so high against entrepreneurs that they cannot get their job-creating ideas off the ground. In fact, one recent survey showed that corruption in Kenya costs local firms six per cent of their revenues, the difference between good-paying jobs in Kenya or somewhere else. And corruption also erodes the state from the inside out, sickening the justice system until there is no justice to be found, poisoning the police forces until their presence becomes a source of insecurity rather than comfort.”
No minister jailed for corruption
Apart from ‘induced’ resignations, suspensions and recycling back into Cabinet, no Kenyan minister under Kibaki has ever been arrested and charged in court with corruption, despite glaring evidence. In 2005 when former Cooperatives Development minister Njeru Ndwiga defied the call to pay mandatory stamp duty on a parcel of land he had bought, he openly said that Kibaki had supported him by asking, “whose goat have you eaten?” The only top government official jailed for one year during Kibaki’s presidency was Dr. Margaret Gachara, former director of the National Aids Control Council (NACC). She was jailed in 2004 for fraudulently awarding herself a salary of KSh27 million ($340,000), which was seven times above her scale as a senior government official. However, Kibaki pardoned her before she completed the term. The NACC, which falls under Office of the President (OP), is riddled with financial scandals that have slowed the progress of combating HIV/Aids in Kenya.
In 2006, Transparency Watch stated: “Fears that corruption did not end with her [Gachara’s] high salary were confirmed in April 2005, when a report by the Efficiency Monitoring Unit (EMU), also based in the OP, revealed that for years, high-level public servants had used the NACC as their personal cash cow. There had been a number of early warning signals. An internal audit in June 2002 found irregularities in procurement procedures and in June 2003 the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria withheld a US $15 million AIDS grant until the government addressed corruption in the NACC.
The 300-page EMU report revealed that Kenya could not account for KSh3.64 billion (US $48 million) donated by the United Kingdom over five years since 2001. It put a figure of more than KSh37.3 million (US $490,000) on the amount used by NACC employees to pay themselves inflated salaries and fraudulent allowances, such as the payment of private water, electricity, telephone and home security bills. The largest sum was the money embezzled by Gachara, but others were also involved, including eight permanent secretaries or their representatives, and NACC Chairman Mohammed Abdallah, who was charged with embezzlement but later acquitted due to ‘lack of evidence’.” In 2010, the Kenyan government was, for the second time, denied $270 million by the Global Fund because it had not accounted for past grants. To be continued tomorrow in Part 2.
Kibaki’s legacy of corruption