Can Obama provide hammer to nail graft suspects?

U.S. President Barack Obama.Photo/File
U.S. President Barack Obama.Photo/File

President Uhuru Kenyatta is attempting the biggest national corruption purge ever since China’s Xi Jinping began his campaign against graft in that country.

In China’s case former high-flying Chongking communist boss, Bo Xilai, seen by some as a contender for the Presidency that Xi eventually took over, went down in a sensational trial that involved bribery, murder and abuse of office.

Similarly, the former security boss Zhou Yongkang was indicted for corruption and was sentenced to life in prison.

Both men are likely to die in jail. A handful of other government officials have been executed for graft in that country.

Here in Kenya, many powerful government officials including cabinet secretaries, permanent secretaries have been mentioned in a report by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission that the president tabled in Parliament during his State of the Nation address.

Many have stepped aside but others especially governors, senators and MPs stubbornly cling to office.

For the country to take the current effort by the President seriously, there must be convictions. People must go to jail.

Not since the time of Attorney-General Charles Njonjo has this country prosecuted powerful government officials and sent them to jail.

Today, graft has become such a part of everyday life that those who excel at it are hailed as leaders and rewarded with big posts from where they continue to gobble public resources.

It is time to put an end to it and to send a message that will reverberate through a generation of civil servants. President Uhuru must not relent even when it means hurting friends and allies. Goliaths of graft must be dealt with decisively.

The corruption networks will likely fight back. They will close ranks and gang up to frustrate the process.

For this reason, the President must beef up the resources of the Office of the Director of Prosecutions.

These cases are too many to handle. We must bring in private lawyers of high repute both local and international to join the prosecution team and ensure nothing less than 70 per cent convictions are achieved.

We have in the past made special requisitions when we needed money to go to war in Somalia.

This war on graft is equally if not more important than the Somali war.

And this is where the visit by cousin Barack Obama, President of the United States, comes in.

Over the next few weeks, a steady stream of American heavyweights starting with former President Bill Clinton will be in Kenya. Secretary of State John Kerry, himself a presidential candidate in the 2004 election will follow before President Obama comes.

If ever there was an opportune time and moment to articulate the sort of needs we require from the US government, it is now when we are in the middle of this war on graft.

Given that the scale of the potential purge is unmatched anywhere in the world, the Kenyan government would do well to frame this endeavour to the US President in these terms.

Basically, we need financial and legal assistance to execute this purge.

Financial support to pay top notch lawyers from all over the world to join the prosecution and to fund special high court sittings to focus solely on these cases.

We need legal experts who can support the prosecution and help secure these convictions. These experts would not only help in prosecuting the cases but they will also frustrate any internal attempts in the DPP’s office, to “sit” on files which should be acted upon.

We need assistance to identify and force foreign banks to remit deposits by corrupt individuals abroad so it can be redirected toward development efforts.

We need funding for the EACC to beef up its capacity to fight graft. We need the assistance to ensure the war on graft doesn’t stop there.

Just like it happened in Nigeria, the government must go after governors who are plundering devolution money.

The current defiance we are seeing with those named in the report should be replaced with fear once a few governors have been sent to prison.

Ditto the police.

What is happening in the police force for example is deplorable.

Widely known to be the most corrupt institution in the country, the comedy we are being treated to of police officers attempting to explain away huge cash deposits in their bank accounts must not prevent us from taking the ruthless step of not only dismissing them but also prosecuting them.

As Dr David Ndii, an economist, noted in his column recently, these police officers are showing such business acumen, if indeed the deposits are from business dealings as they say, that one can only imagine how much more money they could make if they didn’t have to waste time reporting to work 9-5 PM.

Indeed, for their sake and in the interest of growing the GDP of this country, such good business-minded policemen should be let go to pursue their talents to the fullest measure.

Like the President said, assets of those charged with corruption should also be frozen.

It is very wrong that money meant for projects is diverted away from the poor into individuals’ pockets and then those same poor are asked to repay the debt associated with it despite never seeing a single coin.

There are many other things the President can ask for assistance with from the US, including surveillance systems and drones to fight terrorism but the fight against graft must take precedence.

Mbugua is a communications consultant and comments on topical issues.