Sunday, February 16, 2014

THE HEAT IS ON FOR SHADY KENYA COUNTY EXECUTIVES

The Senate's decision to send Governor Martin Wambora home on charges of abuse of office is sweet news to those inside and outside Kenya who have been fighting for transparency and accountability in the conduct of public affairs. He is the first on a long list of top County officials on the radar of the Upper House over matters of gross misconduct. Not less than nine others are lined up for investigations by the Senate, according to latest reports.

The struggle to instill fiscal discipline in government has been going on relentlessly, albeit unsuccessfully,  for the past 50 years.

The founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, did nothing to stop avaricious characters from plundering the public. For 15 years, he presided over a regime that condoned land grabbing and encouraged rapacious appetite for greed among officials. Other than Minister Paul Ngei whom he suspended and quickly reinstated through a hurried change of the Constitution for involvement in a maize scandal in 1966, not a single senior official was ever censured for abuse of office during Jomo's term.

Similarly in the 24 years that President Daniel Arap Moi ruled, there was a catastrophic mismanagement of resources. The biggest financial scandals happened during his rule and impunity took root. Corruption gnawed the nation with absolute viciousness leading to an almost collapse of the economy.

While President Mwai Kibaki talked loudest against corruption, a conceited cabal of officials in his government went on a looting rampage. By the time he was being sworn-in for the second term, his government had bottled out of the corruption war.

Thus, for President Uhuru Kenyatta recently to issue a stern warning against corrupt officials - including some in his own office - is testimony enough that the vice is far from being tamed. I hope the President will go beyond rhetoric and take concrete action to slay the dragon once and for all. The Standard Gauge Railway and the Laptop projects have already put a bloat on the Jubilee Government's commitment to fighting corruption.

However, the impeachment of Governor Wambora provides a flicker of hope that something positive is on the way. We have also seen in recent weeks top parastatal officials being hauled to court, and soon a governor of another kind, could be in the dock.

By voting overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner to punish Wambora, the Senate sent a strong message to the other 46 County Governors that it is not business as usual and that no one is above the law. But the most important message the Senate has sent to the country - particularly to those who only recently called for its abolition - is that it is not a toothless bulldog; that it has sharp teeth that can bite even those at the highest level of County Governments.

The grumbling we are hearing from the Chairman of the Governors' Council and his defence of Wambora sound like kicks of a dying horse. Take it from me, the court action the Council is taking is not about protecting devolution but everything about preserving personal interests.

The responsibility of oversight should not be left to the Senate alone, however. The people have a duty too, and that is why I commend the Embu County Representatives (MCAs) for blowing the first whistle over faulty procurement procedures.

It is now the turn of MCAs in other Counties where cases of financial recklessness have been reported. I have in mind the case of Kilifi where 140 million shillings was spent to purchase a house for the Governor in a County currently facing acute levels of famine and hunger.

Kilifi has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, one of the highest illiteracy rates, one of the highest pregnancy rates among under-aged children, one of the highest child mortality deaths; the list goes on and on. Yet, the County Government there had the temerity to engage in fiscal extravagance by purchasing what must be the most expensive dwelling in the whole of the coastal strip.

Kilifi is not alone.

The manner in which Governors are authorising overseas trips for themselves and their officials has reached an extent where complaints are pouring in from foreign nations about incidences of misconduct by visiting Kenyans. Their nocturnal visits to brothels, misbehavior in bars and clubs and general acts of debauchery are irritating our friends abroad and embarrassing the Jubilee Government. Since such visits are made without the knowledge of host countries, there have also been complications in terms of hospitality and security provisions.

The Central Government is unhappy about the extravagance at the County level, where substantial amounts are being spent on allowances and grandiose personal projects than on development. The Anti-Corruption Commission has already announced that all the 47 County Governments are under probe.

It is my view that implicated officials should not just be suspended or impeached but surcharged to recover illegally obtained public funds. Where evidence is conclusive, they should also be prosecuted.

And that is my say.