NGOVI KITAU: Fight graft through citizens’ assembly

Former NYS Director general Richard Ndubai and Anne Ngirita follow proceedings at a Milimani court on Thursday, November 22, 2018 during the hearing of the NYS II CASE. /COLLINS KWEYU
Former NYS Director general Richard Ndubai and Anne Ngirita follow proceedings at a Milimani court on Thursday, November 22, 2018 during the hearing of the NYS II CASE. /COLLINS KWEYU

The New Year has started off on the right footing. For the first time a Kenyan President has left the comfort of State House, Nairobi, to personally lead the anti-corruption war. It’s also the first time that elites have organised a national movement against corruption—a desperate effort to repudiate a self-inflicted Kenyan shame. The question is: Will they win against the heavily barricaded corruption czars and empires?

In a press release on January 10, the Multi-sectoral Initiative Against Corruption (MSIAC), stated that “the key deterrent to the actualisation of Kenya’s full potential is the prevalence of corruption that has embedded itself within the fiber of society.” The MSIAC noted that “conservative figures place Kenya’s economic loss to corruption at approximately Sh1 trillion annually or equivalent to 30 per cent of the Annual Budget.”

The MSIAC will hold a National Anti-Corruption Conference on January 24-25 at Bomas. This conference will be an invaluable boost to the Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Task Force.

However, it bears remembering that corruption has expanded not for lack of laws or private sector deliberations, but because of a paucity of leadership and good governance.

The approach adopted by the President and MSIAC will yield some policy successes in the short term but could fail in the long run. We need a shift from previous anti-corruption initiatives, not only in substance but also style.

This time round, let us use the citizens’ assembly approach for the public, under the guidance of experts, to debate on corruption and decide on a solution.

The UK House of Commons Library defines citizens' assembly as “...a group of people who are brought together to discuss an issue or issues, and reach a conclusion about what they think should happen. The people who take part are chosen so they reflect the wider population – in terms of demographics (eg age, gender, ethnicity, social class) and sometimes relevant attitudes (eg preferences for a small or large state).”

Citizens’ assemblies have been used in many countries to address a range of complex issues. Currently, a citizens’ assembly is taking place in the Republic of Ireland – established by Parliament – to address a number of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society.

In choosing members of a citizens’ assembly, there is no option for self-selection or political appointment. Members are selected randomly (through random stratified sampling) to ensure they are representative of the general public.

The assembly is accessible to everyone. To ensure balance and accuracy, an expert is appointed to advise on the selection of expert contributors and the development of materials. This is important in a country like Kenya with 43 linguistic communities, to ensure conflicts of interest and tribal loyalties that hamper politicians in reaching a conclusion do not surface.

Let us now review the Irish Citizens’ Assembly as a case study. The assembly is a body comprising the chairperson and 99 citizens. Members were identified through a public tendering process when REDC Research and Marketing Ltd were engaged to select the 99 citizen Members

and 99 substitutes.

At the beginning, the Irish Research Council, at the request of the assembly secretariat issued a call for proposals for a research leader, which the evaluation team awarded to Prof David Farrell from the University College of Dublin. To keep the public informed and engaged, the assembly has a website and public proceedings are live streamed.

In conclusion, therefore, let us establish a research-based citizens’ assembly led by experts to champion the war on corruption and keep the public engaged. Through this approach, corruption empires will collapse and corruption czars will have no place to hide in the society.