Some time you have to sympathise with President Uhuru Kenyatta. When he recently spoke about the Ndegwa Commission Report and how it marked the origin of corruption within government — one can only feel the historical weight that the son of Jomo wants to carry.
It was his father, Jomo Kenyatta, who commissioned the Ndegwa Report which Uhuru wants to undo.
Had President Moi looked at the 1980 Waruhiu Report, which ostensibly reviewed the implementation of the Ndegwa Report, he only needed to read paragraph 267 and 268 and which I will summarise below:
“There is ample evidence that the Ndegwa Commission recommendations have been abused … We have received overwhelming evidence to the effect that some public servants utilise government facilities in order to benefit themselves.
Some are said to tender for government supplies and to see to it that their tenders are always successful. Others are said to be in the habit of accepting rewards for work they are paid to do by the government … bribes are acts of wanton corruption …”
And then came the defeatist sentence of the Waruhiu Report: “We are aware that these offences are difficult to detest …”
And with that, we had to live under the yoke of corruption — since it was difficult to detest. But is it?
Every morning, every day, from 6am to about 8am, some six — at times eight — policemen station themselves on Thika Superhighway near a stage known as High Point in Juja and openly extort bribes from all matatus, buses and lorries driving past. None escapes. None is forgiven. It is like a ritual.
The only time they had left — and I have watched them for one year — was when Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i started a crackdown on matatus — which appears to have withered and for the last two weeks they resumed business.
The Sh100 and Sh50 bribe is picked by the police so openly that one wonders whether any senior police, or civil servant, ever passes by here and sees how rotten the face of government is.
Whoever sees Dr Matiang’i or Inspector General Joseph Boinett, before I do, tell them about this Thika Road “bribe” station and ask them to covertly go there and watch what happens; They will be shocked.
When President Uhuru Kenyatta was recently addressing the anti-corruption conference, he spoke about police owning matatus and policing them, too.
While this is the most brazen type of corruption in Kenya, and has stymied the growth of the transport sector — it is known, even inside the government, that the corruption vice facing this country — and President Kenyatta seems to agree — could be traced to the 1970 Ndegwa Commission which allowed civil servants to start doing business, alongside their normal duties.
Traffic police are millionaires and so are many other civil servants — both junior and senior who have built multimillion empires based on sleaze.
The impact of Recommendation 32 of the Ndegwa Commission which allowed civil servants to invest in business, the source of their wealth notwithstanding, has always been blamed for the institutionalisation of corruption.
Previous attempts to have the government address this issue have always been dismissed.
Sometime in June 1980, one of the most outspoken MPs then, Dr Chibule wa Tsuma, complained that the Ndegwa Commission recommendations, especially No 32, had turned to be “the main bulwark” of corruption in Kenya. But the Minister of State in the Office of the President, GG Kariuki, defended the Ndegwa
Commission report saying that “there exists some machinery within the government to fight magendo.”
That GG, as he was known, was openly lying and defending the Ndegwa Commission was with a reason. He was the blue-eyed boy of the early days of Moi government — investing in both land and import business — just like all other civil servants-turned-barons of the Moi and Jomo Kenyatta government.
At best, GG would only feign ignorance and Dr Tsuma asked: “Is the honourable minister not aware that magendo (which stood for both corruption and smuggling) has come as a result of unlimited ownership and indulgence in private property and business by public servants? Is he also not aware that Ndegwa
Commission in paragraph 32 of its Report, public servants (are) to own private properties and business on condition that they observe a code of ethics … (which) is not humanly possible to observe.”
In one of the most classic defence of corruption by a Cabinet minister, GG told Parliament that “magendo started during the time of Adam and Eve when they wronged God through magendo.
This is not something that is new in our society. Our concern today is to try to get rid of it completely. Therefore, we cannot blame the Ndegwa Commission. Even if Ndegwa was not born, magendo would still be here.”
On the code of ethics, which was supposed to be followed by civil servants before establishing businesses, Mr Kariuki said ethics cannot be codified. He said:
“The government allows civil servants and other public servants to engage in lawful and meaningful business as long as these businesses do not come to conflict with their duties in the civil service.”
But as a rider, he added — and this became the hallmark of the Nyayo regime: “You cannot stop somebody from going wrong.
You will only know later, when he has gone wrong, but his motives and ideas at night can never be visualised by the government or any minister.”
While Ndegwa Report had talked about a code of ethics which was to be followed, this was sabotaged at an early stage. In Circular No 6 of 1973 the Permanent Secretary/Director of Personnel had asked the civil servants to “declare their interests” which they didn’t.
As a result, the Code of Ethics recommended by Ndegwa was neither implemented nor adhered to while the Code of Regulations which was to be amended was not enforced.
If you read the 1980 Waruhiu Report presented to President Moi and which was to review the Ndegwa Report, they felt that Ndegwa Report’s ideal civil servant was so much removed from reality.
The kind of civil servant that Ndegwa had envisaged should be allowed to do business was an “ethical person (who) must not allow his personal interests to conflict with his public duty.
The public servant must further be a dedicated person who serves his country with devotion and consistency …”
But when the Waruhiu Report said when they tested these descriptions “on several members of the Public Service and of the general public, we were told that the Ndegwa Commission must have been thinking of angels …”
It was the view of the Ndegwa Report that civil servants “acquiring certain private interests should bring them to the notice of higher authority and where appropriate seek approval of their actions.”
It also asked the government to demand that all senior civil servants make “complete statements of their interests.”
This report came when top civil servants were acquiring, nay grabbing, Asian businesses in Nairobi and the countryside and also lining up for choice farms left by the colonial settlers.
They were also buying up shares in companies which wanted some blue-eyed boys within their ranks — who all happened to be civil servants.
As such, nobody was interested in the Ndegwa ethics! What for?
As Mr Waruhiu and Mr Ndegwa, earlier, found out, nobody was interested in fighting corruption. On Page 102 of the Waruhiu Report he remarks:
“We have tried to obtain official explanation as to why the code of ethics recommended by the Ndegwa Commission was not implemented and why the Code of Regulations which was never amended and which therefore remained in force was also not enforced. Our finding may be summarised simply as lack of the will — political or otherwise.
The problem was starting at the top where ministers and their assistants were not willing to declare their wealth and that tells you why GG Kariuki would see-no-evil with the Ndegwa Report.
That has continued to date and even with the new Constitution, the declaration of wealth has become private.
Recently, President Kenyatta ordered a lifestyle audit on all public servants — in line with the Leadership and Integrity Act 2012 as well as the Public Officers’ Code of Conduct and Ethics 2016.
Whether this effort has borne any fruits is not known, but undoing the damage done by the Ndegwa Report will be a Herculean task though not insurmountable. This Sunday, pray for Uhuru Kenyatta.
By Daily Nation