Talking about corruption in Kenya, the initial reaction is almost always identical: Shaking of ones head — a query as to whether it’s getting worse than it ever has been and concluding with fears for the future.
For a long time now, there are very few people who have any reason to feel any change, and suggest there are signs that things are getting better.
However, there are small signs that, in fact, there might be light at the end of the tunnel. What started as a slow drip has turned into a gentle flow and if things continue on the same course, it has the potential to evolve into a proper torrent.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the agency mandated to investigate graft, has had a turbulent and troubled history. For a long time, it was perceived as a blunt instrument allowed only to pursue those who were a threat to the government in place, and with little finesse. This stagnation continued up to 2013, when a serious transformation process started with the appointment of Halakhe Waqo and Michael Mubea at the helm, an international development expert and leading lawyer respectively.
Since then, they have made efforts to reform the agency and, despite highly publicised challenges at the top, they have quietly been probing cases and building the organisation’s capacity as a proactive and reactive investigative agency. The results are already showing.
Their investigations have produced credible cases which have been prosecuted. Not many cases had reached that stage before 2013 due to inactivity since 2010. This year, for example, this has changed substantially.
At the time of writing this article, there were 16 custodial sentences by the courts based on the investigations conducted by the EACC. From 2013, almost 900 people are awaiting trial and the regular covert operations are keeping the corrupt on their toes.
One good example is the case of former Eldoret South MP Peris Simam and her husband, who were on October 7 sentenced to 18 years in jail or a Sh10 million fine — the most significant sentence that a public official in Kenya has ever received — for corruption charges. She was found guilty of influencing the award of a contract for road repairs and maintenance to a company associated with her husband.Never before had an MP, or any senior official, been held accountable in such a way.
This should send a strong message that public servants are not immune to the rule of law.
Two weeks later, on October 21, Jane Ngugi, a former accountant at the ministry of Education, was sentenced to five years in prison for falsifying documents to cover up the theft of over Sh8 million in fictional expenses for a workshop.
One of the key factors behind this surge is a change in tack, and a new and vigorous focus on following the stolen cash rather than probing procedural irregularities. It is this change of tack that has produced results in cases that have dragged on for years. After so many years of inactivity, there is now the likelihood that millions in stolen, but now repatriated, cash will be used for healthcare projects.
The Sh52 million recovered from Smith & Ouzman, whose officials have been jailed in the UK for bribing some IEBC officials, will be used to buy ambulances according to the EACC.
In the past couple of weeks, the EACC has made arrests at the Huduma Centre in Kibera and at the Spectre distillery in Kisumu of officials linked to corruption deals.
There is of course a long way to go. Bribery is a major problem and access to services is still swiftest for those who pay ‘privately’. But looking around this continent, the signs of tangible success are few and far between.
We should be proud of these achievements and see this light at the end of a long tunnel as a goal we all should support and work towards.
The writer is the director, International Centre for Asset Recovery