Kenya whistleblowers to gain from new US anti-graft strategy

Joe Biden and Uhuru Kenyatta

US President Joe Biden meets with his Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on October 14, 2021.

Photo credit: AFP

Kenya’s anti-corruption campaigners could be among those who will reap from a new US strategy meant to punish thieves and reward guardians of public funds.

The Strategy on Countering Corruption, launched on Monday by President Joe Biden, seeks to strengthen cooperation with allies, including exchanging evidence, but will also strengthen the work of activists and investigative journalists.

Part of the policy will involve placing integrity at the centre of diplomatic engagements, but will also target professionals who may be used to launder money between countries, such as lawyers, accountants and auditors.

It proposes “working with partner countries through multilateral fora, diplomatic engagement, law enforcement cooperation, and capacity building to strengthen their anti-money laundering regimes to bring greater transparency to the international financial system,” said a fact sheet shared on Tuesday.

Working with allies such as the Kenyan government, Washington says it will seek to compel partner countries to also elevate restrictions on money laundering and reporting on public funds by toughening existing laws.

But the key players now will be civil society activists and journalists investigating corruption or auditing usage of public funds. The US government will be “elevating diplomatic and development efforts to support, defend, and protect civil society and media actors, including investigative journalists who expose corruption”.

It adds that further work will involve “working with the private sector to improve the international business climate by encouraging the adoption and enforcement of anti-corruption compliance programmes by US and international companies.”

The strategy now means whistleblowers in countries beyond the US could be rewarded for exposing corruption, effectively elevating the war on corruption to the same level as that of fighting terror, as long as those assets have been stashed on US soil.

Kleptocracy Asset Recovery programme

Known as the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery programme, Washington intends to enhance its ability to “identify and recover stolen assets linked to foreign government corruption that are held at US financial institutions”.

Over the years, the US has often listed wanted terror criminals with a reward scheme for those who find them. The tradition is that those who win are kept a secret for their safety.

With corruption becoming a daily issue in Kenya, activists and journalists may find the new programme beneficial, especially when it comes to threats targeting them.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new programme would address an issue that affects all types of communities and life.

“Corruption and its harmful effects have the potential to touch nearly all aspects of society,” Blinken said on Monday.

“The US Strategy on Countering Corruption outlines ways the State Department will help effectively fight for transparency and prevent corruption around the globe.”

The strategy says the US intends to strengthen anti-graft cooperation with other global powers in the G7 and the G20. But it is unclear just how far Washington could go in influencing how these powers interact with other parts of the world such as Africa, where competition for investment has risen lately.

The new programme intends to stop rogue world leaders from buying property on US soil. It will place responsibility at the door of agents such as lawyers to ensure the transactions they handle are not proceeds of corruption.

This will, however, require Congress to amend laws to specifically require lawyers to reveal details of client services they have handled in case of corruption.