Publication: Business Day Issued: Date: 2003-01-27 Reporter: Games Editor:

Mwai Begins Fight Against Corruption


Publication  Business Day
Date 2003-01-27


Games - Director of Africa@Work

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Kenya's new government has vowed to root out corruption and no one is to be spared. In just a few weeks, President Mwai Kibaki has installed a formidable array of corruption fighting mechanisms.

He has started with the judiciary. Already an arrest warrant for the chief justice has been issued. Warrants are being drawn up for several former magistrates, sitting judges, retired and serving officers in the police, army, national intelligence and security service, and some members of the current parliament.

Last week, the government published three anti-corruption bills that will be presented to parliament when it reopens this week.

An admirable cause for a new government, but certainly not without precedent. All new governments in Africa appear to prioritise the fight against corruption. This usually amounts to a witch hunt for members of the government they have just ousted.

However, the promises to tackle the problem are usually short-lived.

The window of opportunity opens and closes, often at great speed. As new elites form around the government, patronage rears its ugly head and old patterns reassert themselves.

Corruption in many African countries, including Kenya, is endemic and often institutionalised. It extends from petty corruption and kickbacks for contracts (particularly in public works) through to outright looting by the political elite.

It is also fed from outside by foreign governments, multinational firms and a range of other players. Failing to curb the importation of corruption is a key reason for the failure of attempts to fight it.

The rash of global conventions and other instruments designed to stem the tide of bribe paying by multinational firms seems to have been unsuccessful.

The former government of Daniel arap Moi paid lip service to fighting corruption, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank which suspended lending to Kenya in 1997 and also in 2000 because of his government's failure to tackle the problem.

To date, the World Bank has banned 80 companies and individuals from its projects, in its attempts to stamp out graft in contracting.

A body set up to fight corruption by Moi's government was ineffective. Its work stalled when the trail consistently led to top government officials.

Kibaki has made a good start. However, will it last?

John Githongo, former head of Transparency International in Kenya, has been appointed to the office of the president to head up the fight. He reckons there is a two-year window of opportunity for any new government to tackle corruption and deliver on its promises.

If it does not act in this time, it is unlikely ever to do so.

The key to extending this window, he says, is for the media, civil society, business, the judiciary, parliament and other institutions, to apply pressure to ensure the government keeps its promises.

"If we sit back and wait for a president and a group of politicians running Kenya to be sincere about the fight against corruption, we shall be disappointed," he said prior to his appointment.

Political will is vital in any cleanup campaign. Take Zambia, where for more than a year, President Levy Mwanawasa has been unflinching in his efforts to expose the corruption perpetrated by the former government of Frederick Chiluba.

The extent of the graft has been staggering. Earlier this month, prominent figures linked to Chiluba were arrested and charged with corruption.

Those affected included the MD and former deputy MD of the state-owned Zambia National Commercial Bank, the former deputy director of intelligence, a former treasury secretary and former government chief economist.

Mwanawasa is still in the two-year window. It is to be hoped his focus on his predecessor is not masking corruption in his own government. If the next Zambian government does not have to waste time and resources uncovering the excesses of his government, that will truly be an example for African countries to follow.

Games is a Director of Africa@Work, a pan-African conferencing and publishing company.

With acknowledgement to Business Day.