Macharia Gaitho: Code of Conduct being flouted with impunity

THERE USED TO BE A DOCUment called the Ministerial Code of Conduct. Issued by President Kibaki just three short years ago, The Code would appear to have gone into disuse seeing the sort of conduct and utterances we are daily observing of our ministers and assistant ministers.

In addition to expecting them to observe the general Code of Conduct and Ethics applicable to all public servants, ministers were further bound by detailed regulations in a long list of dos and don’ts.

The regulations are being openly flouted, and it appears nobody is willing to enforce them.

Perhaps one could blame the structure of the coalition that forced the two arms of government to cohabit with characters they would ordinarily not want to be seen dead with. There is also the unofficial immunity granted ministers because, however badly they behave, they cannot be sacked unless President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga concur.

The coalition structure, however, is not exactly the one at fault. Even in the pre-coalition period, when he ruled without having to make reference to anyone else, President Kibaki was patently uninterested in enforcing discipline and good behaviour among his troops.

A look at the Code of Conduct reveals a whole series of provisions, which have been ignored.

As a public service, today I dedicate my space to extracts from the Code of Conduct. I will be waiting to receive alerts when these provisions are flouted. I suspect no minister will be left standing if the Code were to be applied.

In carrying out public business, including making public appointments ministers should make choices on merit, without discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, gender, religion or origin.

Ministers are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to scrutiny by the Public and Parliament. Ministers, who knowingly mislead Parliament, will be expected to offer their resignation.

Ministers should, at all times, act with honesty, and uphold the highest ethical standards.

Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises or appears to arise between their public duties and private interests. A minister shall not personally, or through a company in which he or she is a shareholder or a director, do business directly or indirectly with the ministry or any public body under the general or special oversight by the ministry of which he or she is the minister.

Collective responsibility requires that ministers should be able to express their views frankly in private while maintaining a united front when decisions have been reached. Ministers should thus not disagree publicly with Cabinet decisions. Decisions reached by the Cabinet are binding. Ministers are required to abide by them and defend them as necessary.

IN REACHING POLICY DECISIONS ministers shall give fair consideration and due weight to informed and impartial advice from civil servants.

Any minister who intends to make a speech, which deals with, or makes observations which have a bearing upon matters which fall within another minister’s responsibilities, should consult that minister.

On appointment to each new office, ministers are advised to provide the secretary to the Cabinet with a full list, in writing, of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict. The list should cover not only the minister’s personal interests but also those of a spouse or partner, children who are minors, trusts of which the minister or a spouse or partner is a trustee or beneficiary, or of closely associated persons.

Ministers undertake to allow the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, or any other competent authority, to access their declarations of assets and liabilities made under the Public Officer Ethics Act, or any other law amending or replacing the same.

No other authority shall be required by the Anti-Corruption Commission or other competent authority to access a minister’s declaration from the responsible Commission and to verify the same. The President may, on the advice of the Commission or other competent authority, take administrative action against a minister whose declaration is found to be incomplete, or false or otherwise to raise suspicion on the integrity of the minister without prejudice to any legal action that may be taken against such minister.

Ministers must resign any directorships they hold when they take up office.

A Minister shall not accept or solicit any gifts, rewards, hospitality, benefits or any other valuable present in any form, whether in appreciation for any act done or for any other reason. The same principle applies if gifts are offered to a member of their family.

Receipt of gifts by a minister from donors should, in all cases, be reported to the President, and be retained by the permanent secretary on behalf of the ministry. Gifts given to ministers in their official capacity become the property of the Executive.

Ministers shall not use government facilities and resources for party or constituency work.

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