MWAMISI: Public Service, Judiciary reforms can defeat graft plague

Leaders threaten, they digitise, they close loopholes and demand a tough judiciary and agencies, but the danger has yet to be vanquished.

In Summary
  • The judiciary is indispensable in the fight against corruption due to its roles in enforcing laws, holding offenders accountable and protecting whistleblower.

  • It recovers stolen assets, strengthens legal frameworks, maintains public trust, ensures fairness, and facilitates international cooperation.

Head of Public Service Felix Koskei.
ACCOUNTABILITY: Head of Public Service Felix Koskei.
Image: PCS

Various factors make fighting corruption in the developing world and African nations a Herculean task. Corruption undermines economic development, weakens institutions, derails sustainable development, and erodes public trust.

It manifests in numerous ways such as theft, bribery, embezzlement, nepotism, negative ethnicity, racism, extortion, influence peddling, poor decision making, and even inaction by public officers. Fighting it is particularly challenging due to this combination of factors, its entrenchment in political systems being a leading issue.

Many African nations have political systems where power is centralised and closely guarded by a few individuals or groups. These political elites often benefit from corrupt practices, creating a cycle where corruption sustains their hold on power, and their power, in turn, sustains corruption.

Efforts to combat corruption are frequently undermined by those in power who resist reforms that would threaten their positions. The lack of political will to address corruption at the highest levels of government makes it extremely difficult to implement effective anti-corruption measures. This is a challenge Kenya has faced for many years preceding the current government.

The current government in as been implementing a raft of measures to combat corruption following a presidential declaration of zero-tolerance to corruption policy. As a performance metric, for example, the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service on September ordered all Principal Secretaries and Chief Executives to comply with the zero-fault audit regime.

He declared they must be ready to appear before parliamentary committees, such as the Public Accounts Committee, to respond to any issues raised about their management of public resources. The government has also been very clear that those found with their fingers in the cookie jar will take personal responsibility.

Institutional weakness is another major obstacle in the fight against corruption. Many African countries lack robust legal and regulatory frameworks necessary to combat corruption effectively. Judicial systems may be underfunded, poorly staffed, or influenced by corrupt officials, making it difficult to prosecute and convict those involved in graft.

“That corruption still exists, therefore, is not for lack of laws, policies, regulations, dedicated institutions, or implementation mechanisms. Indeed, in Kenya we have about 18 different pieces of legislation addressing corruption and several independent institutions,” Head of Public Service Felix Koskei said.

He was delivering the keynote address at the UNODC Regional Conference of the Eastern Africa Association on Anti-Corruption Authorities Safari Park, Nairobi, to fast-track the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Additionally, oversight bodies and anti-corruption agencies often lack the independence, resources, and authority needed to operate effectively. Without strong institutions, efforts to combat corruption are likely to be fragmented and ineffective. The current government has already stated that it will not only allow but empower these agencies to do their work effectively.

“Our resolve as the Executive to ensure harmonious working relations with independent institutions is not meant to manage or interfere with their work but to facilitate the efficient delivery of services to Kenyans,” President Ruto said. He spoke during a meeting with Constitutional Commissions and Independent Institutions at State House, Nairobi on January 17.

Developing the country and creating jobs is crucial to end reduce corruption in public systems. Economic pressures contribute significantly to corruption, as high levels of poverty and unemployment create environments where individuals resort to corrupt activities to survive.

If public servants are underpaid and overburdened, they will view corruption as a way to supplement their incomes. This economic desperation makes it difficult to enforce anti-corruption measures, as individuals may prioritise short-term financial gain over long-term ethical considerations.

The Kenya government has job creation as one of its important initiatives and it will be vital for this approach to succeed.

Kenya is developing the digital infrastructure, digital services and data management, digital skills, digital entrepreneurship. They are effectively aligning them to policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks through the Kenya National Digital Master Plan 2022-2032. The Plan underpins the country’s digital plans.

It is enabling the government to deploy technology to improve public services as it digitizes government records and promotes innovation and an entrepreneurial culture.

Cooperation with international bodies and other government agencies regionally will greatly help Kenya to fight corruption because a myriad of external factors also complicate the fight against corruption.

Globalization and international business introduce corrupt practices into local systems, especially when multinational corporations engage in bribery and other corrupt activities to secure business deals. Additionally, foreign aid and investment, while beneficial, can sometimes be misappropriated by corrupt officials.

The international community’s efforts to combat corruption can be inconsistent, and in some cases, international actors may turn a blind eye to corruption in favour of maintaining strategic alliances or business interests. This is why the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption is important, hence, it is significant that Kenya is taking an important role in the Eastern Africa region.

In the 2023-24 financial year, President Ruto allocated Sh23 billion to fund the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Office of the Auditor General, the Ethics Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions. Strengthening institutional frameworks is crucial, not only for creating robust legal and regulatory structures but also for ensuring anti-corruption bodies are independent, well-funded, and have authority to act without political interference.

Judicial reforms are necessary to ensure that courts can handle corruption cases efficiently and impartially. Kenya Kwanza also increased the annual allocation to the judiciary by Sh5 billion shillings. The state of judiciary report in 2022 showed the judiciary lacked adequate resources, which the President embarked on enhancing

On May 14, 20 judges whom Ruto had appointed following a recommendation by the Judicial Service Commission were sworn in, and the President urged them to have integrity and to resist corruption.

The judiciary is indispensable in the fight against corruption due to its roles in enforcing laws, holding offenders accountable and protecting whistleblower.

It recovers stolen assets, strengthens legal frameworks, maintains public trust, ensures fairness, and facilitates international cooperation.

An independent and effective judiciary is a bulwark against corruption, promoting the rule of law and contributing to the overall integrity and stability of society.

The government is also keen to involve citizens in the fight against corruption as it undertakes an integrated, multi-faceted initiative to enlighten Kenyans and entrench a culture of integrity.

The nationwide Anti-Corruption Campaign will raise awareness, convene citizen accountability forums and build technology-driven platforms for reporting and monitoring corruption across all counties.

It builds capacity for the zero- fault audit regime by building capacity for public finance management committees and enhancing institutional capacity through training and curriculum development.

Political commentator 

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