Uhuru should refocus on anti-graft as his legacy

The cartels' grip on government procurement has forced the President’s hand in reaching out to NIS as a last resort

In Summary

• In a sense the President is voicing frustration with fading hope for a lasting legacy and sees corruption as the interlocutor against him.

• He has attempted to fight the vice in various ways, including appointing news bosses in anti-graft agencies.

President Uhuru Kenyatta.
THE BOSS: President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Image: PSCU

It’s encouraging that President Uhuru Kenyatta has returned to the issue of corruption in public entities twice in as many weeks.

While in Mombasa launching the National Hospital Insurance Fund digital registration, the President sent a chilling warning to managers of public entities.

While chastising NHIF that he’ll go to the extreme extent were the managers to be caught with their hands in the cookie jar, the message target was the whole public service.

And on Monday, he scolded the Director of Public Prosecutions for the dearth of convictions in high-profile theft of public resources cases.

In a sense,  the President is voicing frustration with fading hope for a lasting legacy and sees corruption as the interlocutor against him. He has attempted to fight the vice in various ways; he appointed new heads of DCI and DPP; he is increasingly substituting civilians with military officers in public service; and has even put his reputation on line by promising to disown relatives and cronies caught thieving.

This reckoning came amid billions of commandeered heists from government that led to Bretton Woods institutions estimates that almost a quarter of Kenya’s budget is lost in procurement-based corruption.    

Unfortunately, matters corruption have been subsumed in the avalanche of BBI counter arguments. Indeed, even the BBI report mention of this avarice is just in passing. By returning to his faded anti-corruption crusade, one suspects that the President is aware a legacy built on the Big Four Agenda – health, manufacturing, housing and food sufficiency – is a mirage.

Indeed, it’s an open secret that success of the Big Four agenda pillars is being sabotaged by runaway corruption in state agencies that should of necessity anchor the achievements. He may also have been angered by Treasury reports that state corporations lost trillions in the 2019-20 financial year, mostly to fraud.

In Kenya, research, debate and activism against corruption are as popular as corruption itself. Awareness is high that corruption stifles economic growth, increases poverty, promotes tribal kingpins and diminishes development of the country.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission in 2015 estimated that public procurement is the main culprit as inflation added 10-20 per cent to total contract costs.

According to the EACC, procurement is a big cost to the country “when goods or works or services supplied to the government are sub-standard, not delivered despite payment being done, are over-priced”.

In another 2019 study 'Corruption in Public Procurement in Kenya: Causes, Consequences, Challenges and Cures' published in the Journal of Procurement & Supply Chain by Stanford University, Solomon Kyalo Mutangili states that “public procurement in Kenya is still characterised by overpriced shoddy jobs and poor-quality goods and services”.

And while tracking corruption at the Kenya National Highways Authority, Mutangili found the obvious relationship between procurement law implementation and procurement performance: that it isn’t for lack of law but for lack of law implementation that corruption thrives.

In Kenya, corruption indexes appear to rise with enactment or amendment of anti-corruption laws. It’s a sad example of a country overflowing with laws that have yet to hit the target.

There is the Public Procurement Regulations (PPR) in 2001, Public Procurement and Disposal Act (PPDA) of 2005 that created the Public Procurement Oversight Authority (PPOA), the Public Procurement Advisory Board (PPAB) and the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board (PPARB).

The PPAB and PPARB are autonomous bodies. Furthermore the 2014 e-procurement IFMIS platform portal meant to monitor, enhance accountability and efficiency by reducing paperwork in public procurement is instead abetting sleaze.

It is unfortunate that corruption under the Jubilee regime has achieved new heights of impunity and is embedded in key enablers of the Big Four Agenda. This fact leads to a skeptical narrative that the legacy pillars were chosen for their propensity to facilitate fraud.

So far, the gobbling of sh400 billion is given as evidence. As recent scandals have shown, theft begins with formulation of inflated budgets that are populated with corruption pork ghost projects.

When procurement kicks in, contracts are awarded to offshore non-existent entities and money shared out. Mega rip-offs have been in health and water sectors; the scourge of stalled or fake dams.

The cartels' grip on government procurement has forced the President’s hand in reaching out to the National Intelligence Service as a last resort.

I assume this has been prompted by the President reinvigorating the anti-corruption war by reviewing his perception of anti-corruption not just as catching the thief, to more robust preventive measures.

However, it could be too little too late; his legacy might as well be that under his watch the country went to the dogs under the weight of corruption.

Hence, the President’s renewed war must focus on culpability. That wherever corruption occurs, the hierarchy of officers in an entity must be removed until they prove they’re innocent of blame.

For instance, focus on corruption in the transport infrastructure sector has been wanting. Even with the malignancy of the SGR scandal and recently the Kenya Ports Authority, little attention is paid to maleficence in the cartel-infested roads construction subsector. Roads are a key enabler of not just the Big Four Agenda, but more so in spreading equity in national development.

When the President commissioned the Nairobi rail system, it would’ve been reassuring had he hinted that his fresh anti-corruption rudder is pointing at the dirt underpinning dealings at KeNHA, the Kenya Rural Roads Authority and the Kenya Urban Roads Authority. It isn’t for nothing that often roads construction stall and contractors are replaced without penalties.

And it isn’t also for nothing that devolution of roads and restructuring of both Kura and KeRRA was violently resisted. There were calls to disband the two in favour of roads falling under counties.

Instead roads were reclassified to deny counties the resources. But there are indications of hidden budgets that pay for shoddy works and fake roads. Too many are the roads that are impassable, poorly done, not maintained or just ghosts roads scattered in the country, but paid for.

This reality must have dawned on the President at the abandoned section of the Kisumu-Kakamega road at Kibos Road junction in Kisumu. His order for refurbishing didn’t account for the five-year stalling. It should prompt him to have a fresh look at procurement in the roads sector.