Kenya responds to pressure on government graft

Agence France-Presse
Business Report (South Africa)
February 16, 2005

Nairobi: Under heavy domestic and international pressure to prove its commitment to fighting government corruption, Kenya said Wednesday that six fired senior government officials would stand trial on graft charges.

At the same time, President Mwai Kibaki, who is facing blistering criticism for not doing enough to fight rampant corruption, renewed pledges to vigorously battle graft in a transparent manner.

“The management of public affairs requires that nothing is done in secret,” he said. “We should be open to the public in our day to day duties because this is what is expected of us as leaders.”

Kibaki said transparent government operations were essential “as the fight against corruption enters the crucial prosecution stage this year.”

The prosecutions announced Wednesday are the first brought since foreign donors launched a furious assault on Kibaki’s administration earlier this month for failing to meet pledges to crack down on abuses of the public trust.

Attorney General Amos Wako said the six would be prosecuted for their roles in awarding millions of dollars in irregular contracts to supply equipment to Kenya’s immigration department and to build a police forensic laboratory.

The deals were cancelled and the six sacked last year after protests from lawmakers who claimed the tenders were fraudulent and Wako said his office believed there was “sufficient admissible evidence” to prosecute the men.

“I am satisfied that there is on the file sufficient admissible evidence against the (men) to establish a prima facie case in a court of law,” he said in a statement.

In addition, Wako he had assembled a special team of state lawyers to investigate and prosecute economic crime and serious fraud and assured a sceptics that his office would follow evidence wherever it leads.

“Whenever my office receives a criminal investigation file on corruption and economic crime, subject to the availability of sufficient evidence … such prosecution will ensue without fear or favour to the status of the persons involved,” he said.

The six to be tried – Joseph Magari, Sylvester Mwaliko, Wilson Sitonik, David Onyonka, Zakayo Cheruyoit and John Agili – were all senior civil servants in Kibaki’s government and that of former president Daniel arap Moi.

A seventh suspect, Francis Sang, will not be tried as there was insufficient evidence against him, but will likely be called as a prosecution witness, Wako said.

Last week, Kibaki, stung by intense donor criticism and threats to much-needed foreign assistance, ordered Kenyan anti-graft officials to review the deals and recommend possible criminal action to the attorney general.

The contract awarded to the apparently non-existent British company, Anglo Leasing Finance, for new-generation passports and visas tender was valued at about 30 million dollars, officials said.

The forensic laboratory tender, won by a little known company called Forensic Laboratories Limited, was worth about five million dollars, they said.

Earlier this week, Kibaki demoted Chris Murungaru, the chief of the powerful internal security ministry that was in charge of the suspect contracts, but the move prompted complaints that he should have been fired outright.

And, critics pointed out that the integrity of his replacement, former transport minister John Michuki, has also been questioned.

On Tuesday, Michuki said the fraudulent contracts had actually been approved during the Moi administration, which was widely accused of condoning massive corruption during its 24 years in power.

The two contracts in question were among 20 suspect tenders that British High Commissioner to Kenya, Edward Clay, said on February 2 he had brought to the government’s attention to no avail.

Clay accused Kibaki of failing to prevent “massive looting” of public funds and his comments were followed by the resignation on February 8 of the president’s top adviser on corruption John Githongo.

His departure buffeted the war on graft and, the next day, the United States suspended some $2.5 million in anti-corruption assistance to Kenya.

Since then the European Union, Japan and Canada have all warned that their assistance may be jeopardised by the scandals and Britain has said it will deny visas to Kenyan officials implicated in corruption.

Categories: Africa, Kenya, Odious Debts

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