• What makes corruption seem insurmountable in Kenya is the fact that people who are known to have profited from graft seem to continue to enjoy their illegally acquired wealth despite being prosecuted.
• It disheartens the public, and leads Kenyans to believe that justice seems not only unattainable but also makes crime look enjoyable.
The Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission had a triumph on May 21 the Anti-corruption Court when Migori Governor Okoth Obado, his brother and his daughter were barred from dealing with or disposing of a Sh34 million house in Loresho, Nairobi.
Justice Mumbi Ngugi ordered Obado, Peter Kwaga and Everlyne Odhiambo not to sell, transfer or deal with the property on LR NO 21080/38 for six months.
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission in its case filed by lawyer Phillip Kaguchia accused Obado of engaging in graft.
In its court papers, the EACC claims that more than Sh2 billion was paid to companies owned by close members associated with the governor.
EACC had filed a case claiming it was bought through proceeds of crimes.
“In exercise of its mandate, EACC is investigating allegations that public officers in the County Government of Migori conspired with private contractors to engage in a fraudulent scheme to embezzle public funds through inflated or fictitious procurement contracts. Consequently, the said public officers, their associates and private contractors have accumulated illicit wealth to the detriment of the public,” the anti-graft agency claims.
It's a tactic very often used by perpetrators of corruption. Using their positions, culprits will generate a hive of cronies and family members through whom they can transfer funds using companies, purchasing assets and burying evidence.
The assets, funds and subsequent wealth acquired illegally is then utilised for personal needs allowing for the beneficiaries of corruption, including one’s own wife and children, to enjoy undeserved wealth and lifestyle.
This ruling is crucial in this regard: That while the corruption case against the accused is ongoing, any asset that the suspect acquired through suspected illicit funds should no longer be left at their disposal to enjoy and profit from.
Much like a bank robber, once caught, one should not have access to the money they have stolen or alleged to have acquired illegally, to defend themselves and also to further profit from.
The significance is two fold. First, that the EACC was able to track the flows of funds in the accounts of family members of the governor, and flag the possibility that the assets acquired could have been direct proceeds of crime.
Second, the anti-corruption agency was able to convince the court that the rent from the house in question was also a possible profit and proceed of corruption.
What makes corruption seem insurmountable in Kenya is the fact that people who are known to have profited from graft seem to continue to enjoy their illegally acquired wealth despite being prosecuted. It disheartens the public, and leads Kenyans to believe that justice seems not only unattainable but also makes crime look enjoyable.
The fact that a person can continue to not only access alleged embezzled funds but also buy, rent or sell property cements the normalisation of corruption. That corruption is common and when it is your turn in office, you must also be corrupt and steal public funds to also enjoy an undeserved wealthy lifestyle.
Being in court has, up until this point, proven that getting prosecuted makes not a dent in the pockets of the corruptly wealthy, and therefore is not a deterrent of any sort. The lack of immediate financial consequence from prosecution has a numbing effect on the population.
People’s consciences are utterly seared to the immorality behind being a thief.
In fact, more commonly, you will find that because the petty thief or pickpocket will see harsher and more immediate punishment, people begin to believe that should one choose to steal, they should steal large sums, making corruption almost admirable.
Wins in cases of graft where sums are recovered like in the case of Stanley Amuti, where unexplained wealth was forfeited, or in Obado’s will go a long way to close the gaps and loopholes used by perpetrators so that they can no longer enjoy the money.
To make corruption as unpalatable as possible, the EACC should be further empowered to not only freeze assets but also attach any incomes generated from illegally acquired wealth.
This should include companies and their profits that have been tagged as beneficiaries or conduits of embezzlement, and this ought to be allowed in every corruption case currently before the courts. Should the EACC fail in the outcome of the case, there can be mitigation.
Without a doubt, to reset the social psyche around corruption and how people view the benefit of acquiring illegal wealth, we need to have repeated, public demonstrations that corruption does not pay.
The best way to do this requires tough skin, and some level of brutality when it comes to dealing with the cronies, family members and friends of perpetrators; people who may not directly be linked to the crime, but are beneficiaries, and conduits.
Cutting off their means and access to the funds and the assets they acquire may be the tipping point, and may finally shift the paradigm from ‘waiting for our turn to eat’, to not wanting to partake at all.
Waitherero is a journalist and activist