Tom Mshindi: Githongo: Anti-graft Czar with a poisoned chalice

Excitement or fear that the visit of self-exiled former Ethics permanent secretary John Githongo may herald another dramatic expose of the murky dealings many senior operatives in the first Kibaki Government were involved in is misplaced.

He appears to have no inclination to rattle any more snakes, which is hardly surprising as corruption is not going anywhere.

Mr Githongo was not the first legally appointed operative to seriously track corruption. That credit perhaps belongs, with deep irony, to Mr John Harun Mwau, who ran the precursor to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority.

Like Mr Mwau, Mr Githongo’s efforts aborted and he fled before punishing anyone for corruption. He claimed his life was in danger and that his boss no longer appeared to be enthusiastic about tackling the cancer he had sworn to take on.

As could be expected, conspiracy theories abound that try to discredit Mr Githongo. However, corruption is a high-stakes game and an occasional death is seen as a legitimate price that may have to be paid.

What is not in doubt is that his boss then did not exhibit any great desire to affirm his zero-tolerance pledge, the farcical Operation Dragon in the Judiciary notwithstanding. On this, he was just being consistent with his predecessors who found great comfort in accommodating corruption.

If Kenya’s top leadership had wanted to tackle corruption, there was always ample information.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General’s reports were annual narratives of extreme sloth and venality (with the offices responsible identified) that were treated as routine lamentations, eliciting no action whatsoever from those mandated to act.

Reports of parliamentary watchdogs – the Public Investments Committee and the Public Accounts Committee – that have almost always found public officials culpable in the stealing of public funds or illegally exercising public authority for personal gain have been filed away in the archives rather than being treated as desperate public pleas for action.

We recall the spectacular Dick Berg scandal that hugely tainted the preparations for the 1987 All Africa Games and the complicity of our top sports administrator then who is now back as a senior player in the coalition Cabinet.

Recall the Turkwell Dam scandal and the ministers involved? What of the politicisation and corruption of the financial sector in the early 1990s through vehicles such as YK 92, and institutions like Trust Bank?

Shenanigans around land as a prime corruption tool are well-recorded in documents like the Ndung’u Report. That report lists a who is who in corruption related to land, and it is almost a carbon copy of who is who in the past and present political set-up.

And then, of course, was the father of them all – Goldenberg, before the new monster surfaced in the form of Anglo Leasing.

This history precedes Mr Githongo and will survive him into the indefinite future. My view is that as Kenyans, we are both unwilling and incapable of fighting this scourge.

Unwilling because corruption is extremely adept at self-perpetuating and sustaining, incapable because of the incredible resource inequities that define Kenya’s social relationships and elevate whoever has into a cult hero, and whoever has not into a veritable beggar.

Administrative responses like the KACC, the National Anti-Corruption Campaign, the Efficiency Monitoring Unit and legal instruments like the Public Officers Ethics Bill, serve as no more than embroidery trinkets that add up to very little when the sub-structure on which they rest is corruption-riddled.

The good judge, His Lordship Aaron Ringera, can talk of numbers of files opened, investigated and sent or resent to the Attorney-General and wax lyrical about how fearless and committed KACC is.

But KACC is one of the most expensive and ineffective Government indulgences.
Ultimately, fighting graft demands firm political action, not only legal responses, and herein lies the dilemma: Hardly anyone among those who should strike a telling blow on corruption can, in the words of Jesus, cast the first stone.

The rest, including the media, can only make the noise of the frog – completely useless as a deterrent to the cow drinking in the corruption well.

In the fullness of time, corruption will be reduced by decisive political action from those with the moral legitimacy to act. Such action has to be supported by a spectacular creation and redistribution of wealth to reduce inequities.

We should invest in education, infrastructure and wealth creation, not in a PS portfolio. Mr Githongo’s assignment was designed to fail.

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