Kenya corruption charges rattle relations

A former Kenyan anti-corruption czar responsible for distributing a tape that implicates his government in corruption is facing allegations he was a spy for Britain.

 

Mr John Githongo, formerly the Ethics and Governance Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Office of the President here in Kenya, released on Wednesday a tape recording in Britain where he is currently ensconced, implicating confidants of President Mwai Kibaki with high level-corruption.

“Well, the general message was ‘Back off: keep off’ but others were more direct," Githongo said.

"It came as very gentle advice where some would say: ‘Listen, you know, what you are doing now is dangerous to your physical security,’.

Earlier, Githongo had released a 36-page dossier that explicitly detailed how top drawers in Kibaki’s Government sought to either line their pockets or use the ill-gotten monies for their personal political aggrandisement.

As a result of the report, the country’s Finance Minister, David Mwiraria, who has been implicated in the scam which is popularly referred to as the 'Anglo Leasing scandal', involving a whopping Ksh 6.8 billion, opted to take the unprecedented move of resigning from Cabinet.

Also, the President’s Personal Assistant, Alfred Gitonga, was surreptitiously axed from his position. Understandably, his name features prominently in the report.

According to Githongo, the president’s principle assistant, including three other Cabinet ministers, are also culpable.

According to Dr Chris Murungaru, formerly an influential Minister of State in the office of the President in charge of Internal Security, Githongo, together with a former British envoy to Kenya Sir Edward Clay, were “working in cahoots with disgruntled British companies to bring down the current regime.”

Further, Dr Murungaru commented that “... those who think they can remain in power through appeasement or by sacrificing people like Murungaru instead of standing up to Britain and America for the nation’s dignity  and sovereignty, will come to realise, perhaps  when it is  too late, that Britain’s ultimate agenda is to effect a regime change in the country.”

However, the spokesperson at the British embassy here, Mark Norton, says the accusations are spurious.

“It is not worthy thinking about the allegation. It is nonsensical. What Githongo has done is commendable and brave. We hope the Government of Kenya acts on his report. Trivialising the report will not help Kenya’s case in the eyes of the international community. And it’s untrue that British companies are doing less business with Kenya or relocating them elsewhere. For, indeed, since the Kibaki Administration came into power, British trade figures indicate that export figures have been going up and up.”

And early this month, Britain’s International Development secretary Hilary Benn commented that Githongo was “a very courageous person... He has now brought forward very, very serious allegations which have to be investigated... I think this is a moment of truth for Kenya.” 

The US, together with Britain late last year, slapped a travelling ban on Dr Murungaru for undisclosed reasons. He was later dropped from the Cabinet altogether.

According to Jennifer Barnes, the US Embassy spokesperson in Kenya, her country is following the issue closely and warns that dire consequences could follow if authorities here embrace inaction.

She says: “We find John Githongo’s revelations credible and disturbing. The way the Kenyan leadership handles the allegations is likely to have profound consequences for Kenya’s democracy and its relationship with the US and other development partners. As for whether John was a spy for the British Government, the US Government cannot comment on that allegation. The US Government does not monitor where he goes, whom he sees or even his safety. However, we shall evaluate the response of the Kenyan Government to the allegations.”

But the local Norwegian Ambassador, Elizabeth Jacobsen, commented that the time was not “appropriate to speak about the issue."

"Kenyans should be left to speak their minds,” she added.

African embassies approached for comment opted for the standard answer of “no comment”.

While President personal Kibaki’s credentials as ‘Mr Clean’ remain a sure thing, his government has badly been dented by the current scandal.

Elected  with almost 70 per cent of the popular vote in late December 2002, Kibaki’s Administration was vaulted into power under the platform of, among other pledges, zero tolerance on corruption.

In word, President Kibaki has consistently advised mandarins in his government to avoid getting themselves ensnared in corruption, saying that the scourge muddies the public face of Government.

Few, if any, top government officials have been persecuted and jailed for involvement in graft. 

Meanwhile, Dr Murungaru maintains that Githongo is a British spy.

Tellingly, he asks: “What made him flee the country without provocation? Is it possible that he is peddling fabricated evidence designed for a certain purpose? Why did he have to specifically run away to Britain and not anywhere else? Why is he such a darling of the British? Mr Githongo’s behaviour is surely no different from that of the infamous British spy Kim Philby, who spied for the USSR against his motherland.”

The Anglo Leasing scandals are centred on contracts totalling Ksh 6.8 billion, to supply tamper-proof passports and forensic science laboratories.

More than Ksh 460 million was paid out in commission to a non-existent company and for work not done. When the scandal was exposed in Kenya’s Parliament, money was hurriedly returned to the government by unidentified account holders who were based overseas.

Githongo, who resigned from his government position on 7 February last year, needs to provide the tapes to the authorities here, according to the government spokeperson, Dr Alfred Mutua.

“Githongo should hand over the tapes to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC).

“We are not going to play defensive. Let us listen to the whole tape. We would like to receive it and give it to KACC,” he said.

The KACC is one among a coterie of constitutional bodies created for purposes of fighting graft.

Mr Mwalimu  Mati, Executive Director of Transparency International Kenya, the local chapter of Transparency International, a Berlin-based NGO that fights graft, opines that Githongo is a saviour.

Coincidentally, Githongo was the founding Director of the local chapter of Transparency International.

“By playing the role of whistle blower, Githongo is a hero. He has told Kenyans the truth about their country. When he worked as a public servant, he tried to raise the matter with the relevant authorities but they refused or simply ignored to hear him out. His life was constantly in danger. Kenyans should applaud him for staying the course.”

While the Media and Communications Officer at the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), Cynthia Mugo feels that the current focus on Githongo is misplaced.
She argues that the spotlight should instead be directed on the issues he has raised.

“It is ridiculous to accuse Githongo of being a British spy. If anything, the accusation is a red–herring, a diversionary tactic by those seeking to play down the issues raised. While he was here in Kenya, he made strenuous efforts to inform his seniors on what was taking place with little success. By speaking out, he has shown his undivided love for Kenya.”

The 13-year-old KHRC is a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) involved in Human Rights advocacy.

A lawyer working with the Centre for Law and Research International (CLR) says the administration of justice in Kenya is hampered by serious political interference. She points out that the popular perception here is that the law is malleable.

“When the Government, which is supposed to be the custodian of the law, openly breaks the same law, then the message it is sending to its citizenry is that they can also break the law. This phenomenon provides reason to believe that politically-correct individuals who  perpetrate acts of corruption can get away with the crime. It has happened before and probably that is why Kenyans believe that even the brains behind the Anglo leasing scam will somewhat go scot-free,” comments Lucky Waindi.        

As a result of heightened concerns about graft in Kenya, the World Bank early this month delayed payment of loans worth about US $207m to the East African country.

However, the Bank gave a green light a week later for a US$120m payment that drew the wrath of Sir Clay.

In 2004, Clay made a speech in which he famously accused Kenyan officials of greed that caused them “to vomit all over our shoes."  

The fact that US$25m of this money had been earmarked to help Kenya combat graft did not appeal to the envoy, who went ahead to write a letter to the World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz, in which he noted that the loan would “appear as a mockery of the brave men and women who are taking risks to ensure that the scourge of corruption is banished from their country.”

With this latest revelation, Kenya’s leadership is undeniably on the spot.