Wangari Maathai: Kimunya is back as minister, so what is the big deal?

MR AMOS KIMUNYA IS NOT the first minister to be accused of corruption and to retain his post. In fact, until the Narc Government, no minister had ever resigned on being accused of corruption.

When President Kibaki allowed his ministers to step aside, he was hailed as a democrat. There was a sense of pride that ministers could be forced to resign and only return when declared innocent.

If positions have changed, it might be because of the forces of a coalition government, whose two sides are constantly tearing into each other. Were the President to get rid of every minister accused of corruption, there would be few left.

Despite an anti-corruption authority, graft seems to only get worse. It has become a cancer which afflicts many and extends into government and its institutions, the business and private sector, and sadly, even in the religious sector and society in general.

CORRUPTION HAS IMPOVERISHED the country as a few people exploit national resources at the expense of the rest. The majority of Kenyans are victims of corruption, whether they are workers, teachers, health workers, or farmers of coffee, tea, sugarcane or livestock.

But though Kenyans appear to loathe the symptoms of corruption like poverty, slums, hunger, death and a high cost of living, many are beneficiaries of that same corruption, especially if the corrupt are ministers, MPs, or civil servants from their tribe or region.

The corrupt individuals are heroes who deserve support, ululations and dancing parties. Corruption only appears wrong when it is on the other side of the fence.

That makes the work of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission difficult: To take the corrupt to court, it may have to start from the very top. Therefore, the authority is in a dilemma: who do they go for without chopping the hand that feeds them?

Our institutions of governance are too weak to take steps that could curb abuse of authority without those who run them jeopardising their jobs or even lives.

The problem is not the President. Rather, it is the institutions of governance that tolerate impunity, lack of transparency and non-accountability. Instead of governing, the political leadership has gradually assumed the role of predator.

That is why a new constitution is necessary. It will create institutions that will give the nation a shared vision and values to ensure better governance, no matter who is in charge. Without it, those replacing the President in 2012 will follow a similar path, their current rhetoric notwithstanding.

As long as institutions allow it, politicians will continue to make decisions to benefit their friends, supporters and ethnic communities.

Therefore, our efforts should focus on the creation of strong institutions that will curb the weaknesses of human nature: greed, selfishness, and insensitivity to the welfare of others.

We need institutions that encourage and reward hard work, integrity and patriotism. Dictators and corrupt leaders take advantage of weaknesses of institutions of governance and the hopelessness of poor citizens.

With proper institutions of governance and citizens willing to stand up for their rights, excesses of leadership can be controlled. Without them, presidents will continue to appoint or retain people implicated in corruption.

Kenyans may argue that the President’s conscience should not have allowed him to re-appoint Mr Kimunya against the vote of no confidence in Parliament and the wishes of Kenyans.

But, the management of our governments seems more dependent on political expediency and survival than on morals and values.

UNTIL A NEW CONSTITUTION DEmands that ministers be appointed for their competence and commitment to the country, and be vetted by a competent authority, presidents will continue to appoint those who can protect them from the never-ending onslaughts and shifting fortunes.

What is important to the President is survival and everybody in Parliament knows that, and indeed, acts accordingly! The only way corruption will be reduced is if the punishment is a deterrent. At the moment, corruption pays handsomely, even if you are caught!

We ought to be ashamed of the reputation we have earned: that Kenyans are for sale to the highest bidder.

Prof Maathai is the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

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