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February 18, 2019

KIBISU KABATESI: Societies must disown corruption

Mega corruption is an elite problem in Kenya. Until last week when President Uhuru Kenyatta zeroed in on officials in the land allocation chain for their role in the grabbing of public parcels, what passed for the war on corruption in the sector was the dramatised demolition of high-end buildings. Never mind the irony that government officers and agencies authorising the demolitions were part of the approval process for construction.

That’s how National Land Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri and Kenya Railways MD Atanas Maina finally ate humble pie. Only two weeks ago Swazuri saw himself as an immovable boulder and angrily dared all to ‘remove’ him from the NLC throne.

Everyone assumed the Ruaraka land saga would be the fireball that would consume him, rather than an innocuous compensation for alleged fake land belonging to Kenya Railways. His co-accused Maina operated in the subterranean byways of Kenya’s crafty dealmakers until the standard gauge railway happened and the land compensation frenzy took hold.

His terse press statements had a tinge of arrogance and insensitivity. This was obvious when he sided with the Chinese over alleged racism against African workers, arguing the Chinese brand of corporal punishment was part of a new SGR work ethic! He wasn’t even fazed by a report by the Labour ministry confirming Chinese racial slurs at the SGR.

The President’s demand for self-examination of the corrupt government ‘conveyor belts’ puts professional associations in the spotlight for abetting corruption. Indeed, the fact that corruption is nurtured, enabled and protected by professionals who are certified by their associations must be the new frontier before the fight against graft can gain irreversible traction.

Suspicion abounds that the demolitions were a deliberate coverup to shield ‘professional’ culprits embedded in the Lands ministry, county governments, National Construction Authority and professional bodies for lawyers, architects, engineers and surveyors.

It’s inconceivable that the looting at the NYS, NCPB and manipulation of tenders at Kenya Power and Kenya Pipeline happened without the connivance of legal, accounts, procurement, or engineering and architectural officers. The directive for accounts and procurement officers to proceed on compulsory leave and face lifestyle audits should apply to the whole cadre of professionals in public service.

But that’s not enough; we must turn our attention to societies whose members abet corruption. For instance, are the bankers and lawyers who trade in conveyancing assets of corruption innocent?

We will only be scratching the surface of the anti-graft war and sabotaging it if professional associations’ support remains dubious. Uhuru will remain the lone voice shouting in the wilderness against sleaze if we don’t tackle the associations’ seeming disinterest in applying their codes of ethics against members.

Professional societies owe it to Kenyans to demand of members periodic integrity reports. The public should be privy to the naming and shaming of violators of ethical codes. In the current crusade lawyers, accountants, engineers, surveyors and architects are culpable in every other heist. What is scandalous is the silence of their societies.

Let’s review national legislation governing professional misconduct with a view to tightening the penalties for members who put the organisations into disrepute. Even a social club has norms by which members abide, failing which they’re ostracised. Where a professional society does not have a code of ethics or is in default of applying it, a new law must demand that the society and members be publicly penalised.

As it stands now, self-regulation within professional associations has failed the war on corruption. Otherwise, how is it that a member found guilty by a court of law retains membership and career? For most societies censure means protecting members so as not to besmirch the association’s image.

However, outing renegade members found complicit in corruption might just give professional societies the boost in public confidence they need.

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