Corrupt government officers, often fixated on procurement deal kickbacks, are responsible for lost public funds, stalled projects, meaningless investments, dysfunctional infrastructure, and even tax evasion.
The latest in the graft drama series is former Athi Water CEO Michael Thuita (who has so far resigned), who was accused of embezzling water project funds and suspended. The theatre that followed played out in the public gallery, as the cabinet secretary and her PS engaged in an open war for supremacy, based on who is closest to State House.
The allegations levelled against the CEO demonstrate the current trend where senior government officials in cahoots with procurement officers award themselves or their cronies’ contracts and government tenders in return for hefty kickbacks.
Further, the open brawl between the CS and her PS calls into question the commitment of the government to truly defer direction and leadership of corruption deterrence to EACC.
The other major culprit and conduit of corruption in contemporary Kenya is the pending bills monster, in both the national government and counties. For example, a special task force commissioned by Kisii Governor Simba Arati to look into the authenticity of their Sh1.6 billion pending bills submitted a finding genuine claims amounted to only Sh235 million.
What this shows is that pending bills are highly inflated, and in certain cases, are granted for shadowy or non-existent performances. While these claims are mostly questionable, there are often genuine cases jumbled up with the state officials, but, in general, payment delays present obvious cash flow challenges to the genuine businesses.
Moreover, the government has ramped up more than Sh130 billion in pending bills further affecting small businesses. This inefficiency presents a perfect opportunity for corruption as payment of these bills has to be hinged on kickbacks and bribes.
This state of affairs is further exacerbated by internal audit departments that are mostly in limp mode, or co-opted into the gravy train. A risk assessment evaluation recently conducted by the EACC showed that most counties and state agencies do not have functional internal audit units as stipulated in the public finance management act. This presents an opportunity for embezzlement of public funds especially where there are no asset registers.
We must tackle graft as a matter of urgency. In his campaigns, President William Ruto severally said that his approach at dealing with graft was institutional rather than personal, and that he would fully empower the EACC and other agencies to deal with corruption decisively. This must happen as a matter of priority. We must end graft – or reduce it by a large percentage – to sustain spending, curtail debt and boost the economy.