While Kenya is taking the war on corruption a new level with the arrest and arraigning in court of senior government officials, experts say the conviction of suspects is what will determine its success.
“It is a good thing we are seeing people being arrested and arraigned in court. However, only jail terms and recovery of assets will change peoples’ perception that the government is not committed to the fight against corruption,” said Samuel Kimeu, the chief executive of Transparency International’s Kenya chapter.
Last week alone, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu and Agriculture Principal Secretary Richard Lesiyampe were arrested and charged in court, as President Uhuru Kenyatta declared his wish to leave a legacy of fighting corruption.
Justice Mwilu was charged with abuse of office, tax evasion, accepting a gift, that undermined her integrity, obtaining execution of a security belonging to Imperial Bank and conducting herself in disregard of the law. She has obtained a court order to temporarily stop the case.
Mr Lesiyampe and top National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) managers were charged with the irregular purchase of maize that resulted into the loss of $60 million.
Justice Mwilu’s case has, however, taken on a political dimension after the opposition Orange Democratic Movement issued a statement terming it part of a political witch hunt.
Justice Mwilu, who was represented in court by 32 lawyers, including four Senators, affiliated to the opposition umbrella body the National Super Aliance (Nasa), has linked her case to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s threat to “fix” the judiciary following the nullification of his election victory last year, and the subsequent order fresh polls to be conducted.
ODM secretary-general, Edwin Sifuna, who issued the statement, told The EastAfrican that the party was not defending Justice Mwilu but protecting the independence and the integrity of the institution of the Judiciary.
Mr Sifuna said that the party was concerned that a high-ranking judicial officer has been arraigned in court by the same government agencies that cleared her two years ago when she applied for the position.
“The best procedure would have been dealing with Justice Mwilu within the judiciary by referring her to the Judicial Service Commission first. But currently, Justice Mwilu and the judiciary is one thing. The loser is not Justice Mwilu but the judiciary that has been attacked,” said Mr Sifuna.
In an interview with the BBC Hard Talk programme in Washington, President Kenyatta said the government was working behind the scenes to strengthen anti-corruption institutions with development partners offering technical support and training.
“The war started with the procurement officers and will go upwards up to my office. My legacy is to fight corruption and instil transparency and appropriate use of the country’s natural resources,” President Kenyatta told Zainab Badawi in the BBC interview.
But Mr Kimeu said that the war against corruption can only succeed if it is sustained, is not politicised and if the government follows the rule of law.
“The DPP has to act on the many auditor general reports that are released every year detailing illegal expenditure and millions of dollars that cannot be accounted for,” said Mr Kimeu.
Off the hook
Most suspects who have been charged in court in the recent past have been let off the hook due to lack of evidence, faulty charge sheets on technicalities.
For example, in the National Youth Service scandal of 2015, during which the government lost Ksh791 million ($7.9 million) in the dubious procurement and supply of goods and services, only one suspect was found to have a case to answer out of the 24 who were charged in court.
In the maize scandal case, Mr Lesiyambe was charged alongside NCPB managing director Newton Terer and finance manager Cornel Kiprotich in a case that involved 16 suspects.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji further charged senior principal administrative officer William Osoro with abuse of office and stealing.
It is alleged that between September 1, 2013 and April 25, Mr Osoro arbitrarily directed the use of a fuel card for the purchase of fuel, lubricants and pit stop services valued at Ksh7.9 million ($79,000).
The hurdles in successful conviction of suspects, Mr Kimeu said, are also linked to political interference and sabotage by various agencies involved in the justice system, which have seen senior politicians and government official cleared by the court.
“If you look at the some of these heists you will note that the involved many highly-placed individuals in our society. They offer protection to the suspects and also compromise the system,” he said.