MAN OF FEW EQUALS

Scouting for another Ouko?

He showed Kenya is a country of preventable systemic leakages.

In Summary

• Hope of economic take-off is fading, as the economy grapples with massive debts, against burgeoning budget deficits.

• Lack of action on the disclosures of massive theft is horrifying.

Kenya wastes public money in trillions of shillings, yet it also suffers self-imposed budget shortfalls. This is the irony of the Jubilee era – a cocktail of plenty amid greed-inspired scarcity.

The wastage is incredulous. The failure to act on the pilferage, which an independent constitutional agency has authoritatively confirmed, is a horrendous case of bad governance. The inaction on the exposures incriminates the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, the Senate, and the county assemblies, which should protect the public interest.

The complicity of the people who plunder and waste, and the people who should investigate, arrest and prosecute the suspects, is economic terrorism. The magnitude of the plunder should worry right-thinking citizens.

The first occupant of the Office of the Auditor General under the 2010 Constitution left office last week, after eight years of a love-and-hate relationship with the officialdom. He leaves an institutional self-audit that illustrates Kenya is a country of preventable systemic leakages.  

No matter how conscientious the outgoing Auditor General Edward Ouko was, he was always hitting headwinds. But he raised the profile of what was until 2011 a routine accountability agency.  

The survival for about a decade in the sensitive office shows he triumphed over insidious forces that would have wanted him ejected when he began stepping on sensitive toes. The man barked, with lots of irrefutable evidence of pilferage. The Office of the Auditor General exposed massive corruption, pointed out shortcomings in public financial accountability, without attracting the attention of investigative agencies.

In a country of compromise, vested interests, finding the Auditor General’s replacement will require a search beyond ethnic, political correctness, forgeable good conduct or tax compliance certificates

Figures from the Ouko self-appraisal are disturbing. Lack of action on the disclosures of massive theft is horrifying. During each of the eight years Ouko reeled out audit reports, the public could have lost Sh1 trillion, through questionable expenditure. The public may have lost Sh8 trillion to corrupt individuals and tender-sucks. The plunderers work with state thieves by exploiting rickety public financial systems.  

The Ouko reign - 2011-2019 - saw a massive hike in public expenditure, rising from Sh1.7 trillion to Sh3.02 trillion. The surge has seen massive rise in corruption – of money that cannot be accounted for, or a chunk whose value to the economy cannot be established.

Theft of money collected as revenue rose, with much of the take leaked out of the system before reaching the Kenya Revenue Authority. Sh5.1 billion collected as revenue in 2017 did not reach Times Towers. In 2016, Sh3.7 billion disappeared at the farm-gate. In 2015, Sh3.1 billion vanished, and 2014 another Sh2.7 billion tax money ended in the pockets of individuals or was subject of fraudulent accounting. Only Sh12 billion of the Sh813 billion collected in 2013 had verifiable records.

The Jubilee era, initially marketed as the digital age of mass progress, is a tragedy of great expectations. Even those who believed in the Jubilee promises of the 2013 regime-change elections are disappointed. Despair has replaced hope. Where there was light then, there is darkness. Where youthfulness was expected to offer a new leadership paradigm, there is doublespeak and paralysis.

A good Auditor General without power to arrest and prosecute may not raise the profile of the office beyond Ouko's try.

Charles Dickens echoes the Kenyan paradox in 'A Tale of Two Cities':  "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

Hope of economic take-off is fading, as the economy grapples with massive debts, against burgeoning budget deficits. The national tax collector is desperate for new ways of boosting revenue collection. Tax evaders in the range of billions of shillings have been charged in court.

The OAG vacancy was advertised last week. The search is on for Ouko's replacement. The man left a Sh10 million-job-a-month for a position that pays Sh2 million. He took a salary cut because he wanted to serve his country. Many times a dollar millionaire before this job, Ouko was incorruptible. He served abroad for 33 years, most of it with the African Development Bank.

The man was ebullient, decent, and honest. The challenge remains, in a country of compromise and vested interests, finding a replacement will require a search beyond ethnic, political-correctness, forgeable good conduct or tax compliance certificates.

But a good Auditor General without power to arrest and prosecute may not raise the profile of the office beyond Ouko's try. If this should teach us something, then it should be agencies with powers to arrest and prosecute should have a direct, legal responsibility for acting on the exposures of the Office of the Auditor General.