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RIGHT MOVE

Putting money recovered from graft to good use against Covid-19

Corruption kills, and it’s never been more plainly visible than today.

In Summary
  • Kenya has led not just the region but increasingly the continent in its ever more impressive recovery of looted assets.
  • This work is led by the EACC and the ODPP with little media recognition.

On Monday, April 6, 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that Sh2 billion (just under $19 million) recovered by the mandated agencies in the fight against corruption would be allocated to the Treasury for the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was quite some announcement and showcases, in my opinion, how recovered funds should be utilised to the benefit of the mwananchi. This is particularly true in this time of crisis. The inevitable economic downturn will heavily impact the country’s economy and in particular the many Kenyans who earn their crust day by day.

Kenya has led not just the region but increasingly the continent in its ever more impressive recovery of looted assets. This work is led by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), with little media recognition. It has been gratifying to see senior officials from diplomatic missions do a double-take when they hear about the size and scale of the recoveries.

Recovering funds stolen through corruption, often hidden away in foreign bank accounts and disguised in the form of property or investments, doesn’t come easily. It’s the fruit of the hard work that has been invested in a follow-the-money approach that has become the mainstay of EACC investigations. With several successful recoveries under their belts, the asset recovery team are proving that it is getting increasingly difficult for corrupt individuals to hide and enjoy the profits of graft.

Kenya, like so many other countries, faces huge challenges in the coming days, weeks and months. As the number of cases increases, so does the number of businesses unable to operate and subsequently the number of people unable to earn a living and feed themselves and their families. As a consequence, income through tax collection declines while Covid-19 and poverty-related health issues rise steeply.

But here’s the crux: We must ensure that these funds are properly utilised. The government is accountable to the citizens of Kenya, and we should rightly expect to see complete transparency in the use of these funds and be able to ensure that every shilling is properly accounted for. Any theft of these funds would undo public trust in the State. Some might say it would be tantamount to murder.

This while corruption continues to flourish. “Tenderpreneurs” have become the new normal in our country, with so many instances reported in the media of contracts for goods and services being given to proxy companies that demonstrate collusion between government officials at both county and national levels. This greed causes death, directly and indirectly. I don’t know how those responsible can sleep at night, and less so than ever in view of today’s crisis.

We have seen some of the most developed countries in the world struggle to handle the response to the Covid-19 crisis in the past few weeks. In some countries, health systems have been overwhelmed and doctors have had to make difficult choices about which patients to prioritise in an attempt to save lives. Should we, in Kenya, find ourselves facing a substantial number of cases, we will find ourselves in an even more difficult position.

The corruption level in Kenya remains very high, and the health sector and emergency relief operations are always particularly exposed to this risk. When our doctors will have to make already extremely difficult life-and-death decisions and do so with reduced resources because of corruption, their job becomes almost impossible. The result is plain and simple: many unnecessary casualties. Corruption kills, and it’s never been more plainly visible than today.

How recovered proceeds of corruption should be utilised in the long run is an ongoing topic. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of differing opinions and strong feelings amongst stakeholders. But injecting them today to deal with the Covid-19 crisis is the right thing to do and should be strongly applauded and replicated in other jurisdictions where possible.

Quite simply, this will save lives. It will enable the purchase of medical equipment, the provision of staple foods and provisions to the most needy, and assistance to small and medium-sized businesses to keep their heads above water.

 

But here’s the crux: We must ensure that these funds are properly utilised. The government is accountable to the citizens of Kenya, and we should rightly expect to see complete transparency in the use of these funds and be able to ensure that every shilling is properly accounted for. Any theft of these funds would undo public trust in the State. Some might say it would be tantamount to murder.

So in a nutshell: Congratulations to the Government of Kenya for this excellent initiative. If implemented transparently, it will set a unique example to follow going forward in Kenya and around the world and, most importantly, it will save lives.

Senior Investigation Specialist with the International Centre for Asset Recovery based in Nairobi