When in 2017 a seemingly frustrated President Uhuru Kenyatta posed “mnataka nifanye nini?” (What do you want me to do?), many interpreted the now famous rhetorical question to mean he had given up on the war against corruption.
It was, the President suggested, a lonely fight as individuals and institutions tasked with fighting one of Kenya’s most intractable problems were letting his administration down.
But on Friday, on the final day of the two-day National Anti-Corruption Conference, President’s body language was more upbeat as he revealed proposed radical changes in the fight against corruption that has since last year been boosted by the new head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
Mr Kenyatta told the conference held at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi that he had “gone back to the drawing board”, exhibiting confidence.
But given previous commitments over the years that have failed to bear results, the anti-corruption conference could either go down in history as a turning point or yet another talking shop whose lofty promises collapsed like a house of cards.
One major move that is now bearing fruit has been the formation of a Multi-Agency Team (MAT) comprising the Attorney-General, DCI, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Asset Recovery Unit, the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Financial Reporting Centre.
At the two-day multi-sectoral conference against corruption which was a first of its kind, the war on corruption seemed to have received new momentum from key players in the public and private sector.
From legislative reforms that will eliminate conflict of interests among public officers who stay in office and run businesses in direct relations to their work to the empowerment of investigative agencies to trace wealth stashed abroad, the overall message was that the gears had shifted.
The DCI and the DPP promised more high-profile arrests and prosecutions as the Judiciary pledged to rally more resources towards fast-tracking corruption cases dragging in court.
Mr Noordin Haji even vowed to ensure public officials charged in court for corruption allegations step aside to deter them from interfering with evidence when they go back into office while still facing charges in court.
The DPP was emphatic that the individuals who go back to their offices after being charged in court were scuttling evidence and silencing witnesses to weaken their cases and discourage whistle-blowers.
He singled out two governors who he said were back in their offices intimidating staff thus interfering with investigations and dampening efforts to gather and secure evidence.
Migori Governor Okoth Obado was charged with the murder of Rongo University student Sharon Otieno in November 2018 while his Busia County counterpart Sospeter Ojaamong was in court in July to face seven counts of corruption-related charges.
The conference, which also drew the international community which pledged to help Kenya recover stolen assets stashed overseas, also had many promises from the youth, the religious sector and the civil society.
“Corruption is theft from the Kenyan people, and it has long undermined the country’s prosperity, security and democracy.
“As international partners, we are committed to supporting Kenya’s fight against corruption and its goal for greater prosperity for all its citizens.
“We will be responsive partners in the seizure and return of assets gained from the proceeds of corrupt practices, ensuring assets are returned to Kenya,” a statement signed by ambassadors read on their behalf by US Ambassador Robert Godec said.
Apart from instructing the Attorney General Kihara Kariuki to come up with a bill that addresses the conflict of interests of state officers engaging in business, President Kenyatta was emphatic that those in public officers will have to make a choice on whether they want to serve the public or run private businesses.
Several speakers urged the church to shun politicians who find solace in donating part of their stolen wealth in fundraisings with the public also called upon to dismiss gestures form the corrupt.
“The churches can no longer sit on the fence. They must create social jails for the corrupt by rejecting their gestures. Use the social media to identify and stigmatise the corrupt,” Mr Kenyatta said as he called on the youth to join the war on corruption.
While Speaker Justin Muturi pledged never to allow another attempt by MPs to raise their salaries, bankers through their association chairman Habil Olaka pledged to have an open register on beneficial ownership to uncover the lid on companies that operate off the radar through proxies.
Nation Media Group chairman Wilfred Kiboro, speaking on behalf of media stakeholders, said that while journalists will hold all the three arms of the government to account, the media will also ensure its house is cleaned of ‘journalists for hire’.
Even the public transport sector vowed to clean its house by pushing for professionalism through training and change of attitude, as owners’ claims loss of Sh1 billion every month through a network of cartels, police and employee theft.
But even as promises flowed freely at the Bomas conference, leaders traded blame on each another as each agency strove to defend its actions.
For the Directorate of Public Persecutions, the Judiciary is giving corruption suspects special treatment.
But in the eyes of the Judiciary, the DPP is presenting half-baked cases. For the DCI, corruption suspects are getting shielded by court orders restraining arrest and investigations.
For the EACC, the public is doing little to flag out thieves flossing ill-gotten wealth in fundraisings and glorifying them for their philanthropy and being development conscious.
The Judiciary said it was still underfunded and could not expedite the cases while other agencies including the State Law Office and the presidency felt that the cases are taking too long to conclude. Chief Justice Maraga came out to defend the Judiciary, saying judges and magistrates relied on evidence presented before them.
For parliament, it is the public who have been electing corrupt legislators and Mr Muturi seemed to have thrown back the ball to the electorate, blaming them for the choice of questionable leaders.
“Corruption will not just sit down and be fought. It will strike back vigorously. It is a network and come that we need more than blame game to deal with,” CJ Maraga told the gathering.
By Daily Nation