Let corruption-induced sackings not be window-dressing gimmick

Workers at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, Embakasi depot

Workers at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, Embakasi depot, in Nairobi on Thursday. The government agency is in the middle of yet another procurement scandal.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

It is a question I feel obliged to ask, given the gimmicks that have gone on in the country in relation to the war on corruption. Don’t get me wrong. I am, in fact, extremely impressed with the way the President moved with the speed of light to sack officials allegedly behind the latest scams at Kemsa and Kebs.

However, would the latest sackings lead to arrests and accountability? I am not holding my breath for that.

One of the largest scandals at Kemsa occurred amidst the Covid-19 global pandemic in 2020, whereby it is alleged billions of shillings were lost in shoddy procurement contracts. It is nearly three years since and none of the suspects have been brought to book.

The Covid-19 scandal led to health officials putting their lives at risk as they were forced to work without protective PPE gear, which disappeared into thin air. Many Kenyans lost their lives as money meant for essential Covid-19 use were swindled. If people behind that heist at Kemsa are still free, there is a high chance that the latest lot will go scot-free too. Because Kenya has never been resolute in fighting any form of corruption—Kemsa scandal or none.

Ending corruption in a country such as ours requires political will, on top of legal processes that have been put in place to tackle the problem. In Kenya’s context, politics has become the buffer zone for corrupt individuals. It has muddied the waters when it comes to holding, especially, politicians to account. All they are required to do is sing to the tune of the ruling party and all their sins are washed. It only takes one to bend to the whims of the serving government to keep their loot.

Any Kenyan would rather look a fool singing sycophantic songs to keep what they stole than go to jail. It was not surprising, therefore, for the former governor of Kiambu, Ferdinand Waititu, to moan that his calls are not being picked up by UDA’s top brass. He expected UDA to scratch his back by helping to clear him of corruption charges just as he did theirs in last year’s election campaigns. You see, it is the politicians that matter, regardless of their criminality, not the voters’ wishes and right!

Besides politics, the other stumbling block is ethnicity. This is something that has pride of place when it comes to corruption. It even reared its ugly head again in the latest Kemsa scandal when some suspect individuals were spared.

Jumped straight to ethnicity

There is no suggestion for now regarding, for instance, who are involved but the fact that Kenyans jumped straight to the issue of ethnicity is very telling on how we perceive corruption issues or any other crime touching and concerning our tribesmen and women. The victims and the law have taken a back seat as politics and tribalism becomes the deciding factor on dealing with embezzlement of public funds.

EACC and the ODPP also seem to have played a part, too, in the slowing down of the wheel of justice regarding corruption. All it takes is playing ping-pong with a suspect’s case file between the two offices until the citizens forget about it or, like fart, until the nasty smell goes away.

A determined, focused and just institution will find a morsel of evidence if it wants to end corruption. But for most of the institutions tasked with ending corruption in Kenya, finding evidence is as hard as looking for a needle in a haystack. They will play blind and claim not to see the evidence even if it hit them in the face.

Sacking officials or transferring them is not holding them to account. It does not address their culpability if the initial reason for their sacking is theft of public funds. The criminal justice system is set up to deal with all criminal matters and every allegation of crime must be brought to their attention. Sacking and transferring officials implicated in theft of public funds without taking them to court does not make sense at all. It sets a wrong precedent. It suggests that officials who steal public funds only need to lose their jobs as punishment and jail term is not necessary for them as sacred cows.

EACC, ODPP and the police have been great at making a splash when it comes to corruption involving the big fish and the matter hardly goes beyond the pond. If we had severely punished all corruption suspects, chances are, we wouldn’t have had Kebs and Kemsa 2.0. Is the latest round of sackings just window dressing? ‘Yes’ is the answer from me. Unless we severely punish corruption, we won’t see the end of it.

Headline grabbing with knee-jerk reaction is not the solution. Bring back capital punishment, perhaps? I am not in favour of it but, given the level of poverty and loss of innocent lives from corruption, sometimes my mind boggles!

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]. @kdiguyo