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Kenya: old vs new corruption; Nairobi is abuzz with corruption talk. Politicians, the media, donors, civil society and diplomats are baying for the blood of those accused of graft. The finance, energy and education ministers have already resigned, and more heads are expected to roll. Wanjohi Kabukuru reports.

High-level sleaze has been the Achilles heel of President Mwai Kibaki's government for the past two years. The $100m Anglo-Leasing scandal, which first came to light in 2004, has resurfaced and raised a storm in Nairobi, and so far has claimed the career of the finance minister, David Mwiraria, who was forced to resign after weeks of media attack on his conduct in the affair. He was soon followed by the energy minister Kiraitu Murungi, and the education minister George Saitoti (in his particular case in connection with the old Goldenberg scandal in which $2.2bn is alleged to have been siphoned off by government ministers and their business cronies). A fourth person to leave office in recent weeks has been President Kibaki's personal assistant, Alfred Gitonga, who was sacked for his involvement with the Anglo-Leasing affair.

The Kenyan media have been on something akin to a feeding frenzy, claiming "exclusives" of the intricacies of the Anglo-Leasing scandal after the former permanent secretary in charge of ethics and governance, John Githongo, in exile in the UK, spilled the beans. Githongo, who is now a senior fellow at St Anthony's College, Oxford, quit his post in a huff in February last year while on a government-sponsored trip to Europe, citing fears for his life due to his investigations into high-level corruption.

According to a dossier prepared by Githongo, top people in government, and some close to the president, have been involved in shady deals and participated in approving and paying off huge commitment fees to a fictitious company, Anglo Leasing and Finance Company Limited (said to be based in the UK), and then attempted to cover up the affair. Their intention, according to Githongo, was to raise funds to be used by the "Yes" campaign in the constitutional referendum held last November, and also for the general elections in December 2007. The multimillion dollar "Anglo-Leasing affair" involves security contracts for the construction of forensic laboratories for Kenya's Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the acquisition of new generation, tamper-proof passports, at a cost of $58m and $38m respectively. Another $58m was earmarked for the purchase of a naval ship. In the wake of these revelations, enormous pressure from all quarters has been put on the concerned ministers, demanding their immediate resignations. Says Maina Kiai, chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR): "Anglo-Leasing heralded the reversal of NARC's reform agenda. We demand the resignation of all those named in the scandal to pave the way for investigations."

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The former minister for roads, Raila Odinga, never to be beaten in such matters, has added his bit: "This is a major scandal by all standards as it goes straight to State House," he said. "This scandal is even bigger than Goldenberg and we are asking the president to do the honourable thing and dissolve the government."

In order for proper investigations to be carried out, the leader of the official opposition, Uhuru Kenyatta, has called on government ministers and senior officials implicated in the scandal to resign, "failure of which the president should sack all culpable individuals. We refuse to accept any more empty rhetoric from the government," Kenyatta added. The government has, however, read mischief and hypocrisy in the press attacks. Says Mukhisa Kituyi, the trade and industry minister: "These unwarranted and unprecedented attacks are malicious falsehoods: they are an attack on the person and character of the president and intended to undermine the presidency. These falsehoods are highly actionable and we believe the attorney general has taken note. Lately we have seen sections of the media and politicians cast aspersions on the integrity of President Kibaki, a person whose untainted record speaks for itself. For nearly 50 years of public service, Kibaki's personal integrity has been beyond reproach and has never been under question."

The Anglo-Leasing scam, which has its roots in President Arap Moi's former KANU government (it authorised a payment of over $13m commitment fee to the company), came to light three years ago when Maoka Maore, MP for Ntonyiri, made the disclosures in Parliament. An investigation was undertaken by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by Omingo Magara, MP for Mugirango South. The initial PAC report named the then finance minister, Mwiraria, and several government officials, but when the report was tabled in Parliament for debate, Mwiraria's name had been expunged. Several senior civil servants in both the NARC and KANU governments are now facing charges in court related to Anglo-Leasing.

In its end-of-year report, which was published in the Kenya Gazette in December 2005, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) noted: "The government was able to save in excess of $100m of which $6.7m that had irregularly been paid out was refunded." Indeed, it later emerged that all the monies paid to the shadowy company were refunded. This is perhaps the greatest irony in the whole drama. Unlike other scams, in Anglo-Leasing no money was lost. Responding to the allegations of impropriety, Kiraitu Murungi, minister of energy, said the entire "press charade" was a part of a wider scheme to bring down Kibaki's government. "It is part of a political conspiracy by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Orange Democratic Movement to systematically smear, taint and destroy the reputations of those perceived to be close to President Kibaki, with the ultimate objective of bringing down the government," claimed Kiraitu, who has since sued The Sunday Nation over allegations made against him in connection with the affair.

Government ministers have rallied round and are stoutly defending their corner. One of them is Koigi wa Wamwere, the deputy information minister. "Why does Githongo," Wamwere asks, "accuse some ministers of a cover-up if he knew the truth? Didn't they block his way to the truth? When President Kibaki came to power, he inherited a legacy infested with many cancers of corruption like Goldenberg, Anglo-Leasing and land grabbing. While people want all these cancers killed, the opposition and sections of the media want only Anglo-Leasing removed. Why?"

Wamwere continues: "When some in the opposition call upon the president to dissolve the government and call an early election, they do so not to eliminate corruption but in pursuit of power disguised as fighting graft. Their real desire is to scuttle their own prosecution. If the government is dissolved today, the ongoing investigations into Anglo-Leasing, Goldenberg and other corruption cases would stop, and most likely would not be revived by a KANU or LDP regime."

While resigning, Mwiraria maintained his innocence and termed the media coverage as "unfair". He noted: "The only thing I can say at this stage is that the report that appeared in the newspapers cannot have been [deemed] to be fair. You people [meaning the media] went ahead to report it and did not want to challenge whether it is correct or not. You do not ask me if it is true or not? Is that really fair?"

Incidentally, the re-emergence of the Anglo-Leasing scandal seems to have woken the Kibaki government from its slumber on the fight against corruption. It has now emerged that the yardstick used in Anglo-Leasing will be the same for other scandals that surfaced under the previous KANU-run government. As a result, "old" scandals under the former government which the Kibaki administration had shelved for political reasons have now been brought to the fore. These include the monumental $1bn Goldenberg scandal and the Ndung'u Report which investigated the irregular allocation of government and public lands to politically-connected individuals. Both these highly incriminating reports implicating top officials in Moi's government are soon to be made public. "For the avoidance of any doubt about this government's commitment to the fight against corruption," says Mukhisa Kituyi, "it has been decided that the tempo of pursuit of prosecution and restitution will immediately be heightened. The government will move expeditiously to fast-track all cases of perceived corruption. These include release and action on the report of the Goldenberg Commission and even the Ndung'u Report."

Justice Aaron Ringera, the director of KACC who is charged with the heavy task of ensuring zero-tolerance to corruption, has already hinted that no one will be spared, regardless of their station in life. "I would like to state categorically that the Commission will not, during my watch, behave like the biblical Herod or Pontius Pilate, who delivered the innocent heads of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ at the behest of a charming young girl and a hysterical Jewish mob respectively," says Ringera. "2005 was the year of putting in place the necessary capacity, but we now have resources; and in 2006 the KACC will show you what stuff it is made of."

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Both the KACC and the comptroller and auditor general department have now intensified investigations into all corruption cases, and more "prominent heads" are expected to roll in the coming months.

Joe Wanjui, a close aide to President Kibaki and chairman of Transparency International (Kenya), sees the corruption talk in a different prism. "What has happened under the NARC government," he says, "is that we have demystified corruption. You are aware that it is during NARC's tenure that all corruption-related cases have been brought into the open. Kenyans should take advantage of such openness to discuss what affects them, and they should not fear victimisation as that won't happen. This is a sign of our maturity as a nation."
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Author:Kabukuru, Wanjohi
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Words:1563
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