Macharia Gaitho: Do the Principals have any intention of fighting graft?

I DON’T KNOW WHETHER THIS is a sign of incompetence or worse, but President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga willfully passed up the opportunity to demonstrate to Kenyans that they are fully committed to fighting corruption and incompetence in their ranks.

The first Cabinet reshuffle since the establishment of the Grand Coalition monster came at a time when millions of Kenyans are facing starvation from a famine induced by corruption and incompetence in government.

It was also at a time when the Kenya Pipeline Company-Triton oil scandal reached the highest offices. This should have been the time for the government to show that it can no longer be business as usual, and that any leader who gets involved in activities that mar the image of the country or hurts ordinary Kenyans, will be shown the door.

Instead the President and Prime Minister settled for a reshuffle that demonstrates no intention of acting on the pressing problems of the day. It was the equivalent of kicking Kenyans in the teeth with a message that grand theft is now part of government policy and there will be no buckling to pressure from any quarters to get rid of the corrupt and the non-performers.

The retention of Agriculture minister William Ruto and Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi demonstrates there is no intention of dealing with the rot in the two ministries that have been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

If any ministry is enmeshed in greed and corruption and the heads are not held to account, then a precedent has been set and it will only be a matter time before we are hit with a scam of Goldenberg proportions.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga have demonstrated that corruption and incompetence are tolerated, if not encouraged.

That is the signal for every Cabinet minister, permanent secretary, parastatal head and other nabobs to dip their talons into the public coffers while the going is good, secure in the knowledge that they have been given the green light to loot and plunder at the risk of only a few knowing winks.

Refusal to take action on the two ministries confirms that the era of impunity is back, and we are inexorably sliding back to the kind of activities that marked the Nyayo kleptocracy.

The reshuffle also demonstrated the Kibaki doctrine. Any of his friends and allies entangled in corruption may be asked to temporarily ‘‘step aside’’ when the heat from the public becomes unbearable, but is assured of a comeback once the anger has died.

FORMER FINANCE MINISTER AMOS Kimunya thus came back to the government as minister for Trade, following in the footsteps of Mr Murungi and former minister David Mwiraria, key Kibaki allies and advisors who have at one time, had to lie low amidst corruption allegations, before making comebacks into government.

But somewhere along the way, the Principals forgot that the report of the Commission of Inquiry that investigated Mr Kimunya and the Grand Regency Hotel deal would leak, despite having been ‘‘sat on’’ since it was delivered to the president last year. The man did not come out smelling very clean.

In the next few weeks, as the government holds out the begging bowl before Western potentates in order to feed its people, it will be asked searching questions about the collapse of the war against corruption.

Actually there is nothing like a collapse, because there was never such a war in the first place, only plenty of hot air and an array of smoke and mirrors in the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and a multiplicity of other equally hopeless agencies.

Perhaps, as is the preferred fashion of buying time, we will be forced to endure yet another of those expensive but useless commissions of inquiry into the maize and oil scandals.

There may also be some arrests and prosecutions, but targeted at expendable cannon fodder in paper-pushing officers rather than the wheelers and dealers in the heart of government and their business partners who drive corruption.

But, of course, the prosecutions will be handled so incompetently, by design, that prospects of conviction will be less than zero.

One can only despair. Perhaps a trip into places where the pristine mountain air is not yet tainted by the stench coming out of government can do one a world of good. That is where I headed to yesterday.

Bookmark the permalink.