Abdulahi Ahmednasir: Why Britain cannot lecture us on the fight against corruption

British High Commissioner, Mr Adam Wood, like many of his Whitehall colleagues, has of late been wrestling with embarrassment.

Wood has been vocal on the need for countries like Kenya to fight corruption and adhere to good governance practices.

The problem Wood and his colleagues face is that Britain, through the BAE-Saudi scandal, has shown the world that when a British company corrupts officials of a Third World country, 10 Downing Street turns a blind eye.

Actually, Britain seems to tolerate the export of corruption to the Third World.

On April 10, the High Court in London delivered a scathing judgement against a British Government’s decision to stop investigation into a bribe paid by British engineering firm, BAE, to Saudi Prince, Bandar bin Sultan.

In the 1990s, Saudi Arabia signed a £20 billion arms deal with BAE. The Guardian newspaper investigated the deal over many years and made the shocking revelation that BAE paid £1 billion in bribes to Prince Bandar.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) undertook the investigation and gathered incriminating evidence. So damming was the evidence that the Saudi Royal Family pulled all strings to pressure Prime Minister Tony Blair to end the investigation.

They warned that if Britain did not stop the investigation, the contract would be cancelled and intelligence sharing on terrorism stopped.

In the meantime, the SFO continued with investigations. The breakthrough came when the SFO traced the Swiss accounts the alleged bribe was wired to.

The Saudis gave Blair an ultimatum. Blair succumbed and the SFO stopped all further investigations on December 14, 2006, citing dangers to the lives of British citizens and national security.

The conduct of the British Government up to this point is just like any in the Third World. And there the similarities end. In Britain, thanks to the Judiciary, there is no impunity, no matter what who you are.

Immediately after the decision, two non-profit organisations filed a judicial review application, challenging the British government’s decision to stop the BAE probe.

In a breathtaking judgement, the court tore into the Blair administration’s decision, and roundly criticised the Saudi intimidation of the British justice system.

The court, while chastising the capitulation of Blair in light of the Saudi threat, stated that the same painted a bleak picture of the impotence it must invite.

The court ridiculed the Government’s decision to stop the investigation and ruled that Blair was giving in to blackmail.

It stated that it would not acquiesce to a humiliating capitulation on the part of the British Government.

The Saudi threat amounted to a perversion of justice and a gross affront to the British justice system, the court ruled.

Current Prime Minister Gordon Brown, instead of bestowing full faith and credit on the judgement, is faithfully adhering to the handover notes Blair left him.

"The BAE scandal should never be investigated at any cost," must have been one of Blair’s parting shots to Brown.

Last week, Brown instructed his Attorney-General to draft an emergency legislation to prohibit litigation over a subject once the Government stopped its investigation on the basis of national security.

This draconian approach by Brown is ironic. In his first speech, he promised that in matters of State, he would be guided by a "moral compass". It seems corrupting Third World countries does not point to a certain moral direction in his compass.

The conduct of the British Government raises troubling issues. While Britain rarely tolerates corruption of any type in its country, it has a different approach when its companies corrupt foreign countries.

Going by the BAE scandal, Britain tolerates its companies to go to any length to secure contracts.

A case in point, which both Wood and the SFO have turned a blind eye to, is our own Telkom Kenya and Vodafone UK.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has published a report with grave allegations against Vodafone UK.

Britain, through its embassy, has neither expressed any outrage nor pledged to undertake any investigation. It seems Britain is comfortable with the plundering of Kenya’s assets.

The manner in which the BAE scandal is being fought in Britain shows we can learn a lot as a country.

Unlike Kenya, the British justice system is foolproof, probably the best in the world. The London High Court’s judicial review bench is historically referred to as the most radical branch of the higher judiciary in Britain. That court remains the bulwark against any unbridled executive accesses. Many legislations introduced by the Home Office died a cruel death in the hands of this court.

Unfortunately, our judges do not have the pedigree of their British counterparts. They lack the independence that has made the British judiciary such a revered institution.

They fare worse in other aspects. British judges are not appointed on the basis of their ethnic lineage. Merit, a criterion reviled in Kenya, is extolled in Britain.

That is precisely why no one is raising a finger despite the decomposing evidence of corrupt deals like the Grand Regency Hotel sale, Anglo Leasing, Mobitelea, Goldenberg, among others.

Even ordinary Kenyans no longer express outrage.

The writer is a lawyer and former Law Society of Kenya chairman.

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