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Scale up fight against corruption

Early last year, I requested the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) for their audited financial statements and previous AGM minutes through the Ombudsman invoking the access to information provision. NSSF was responsive enough to provide them but there was a complete deaf response from NHIF till today.I repeatedly wrote to the Ombudsman asking if there was a response from NHIF and they were also silent.The question pertaining to why the Ombudsman never got back was answered last week when NHIF CEO and finance director were arrested and charged with conspiring to defeat justice by denying criminal investigators access to desired documents.

The broader vision of transparency laws like Access to Information Act is intimately bound up with shedding light into the dark labyrinths of government information bureaucracy. Early last year, I requested the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) for their audited financial statements and previous AGM minutes through the Ombudsman invoking the access to information provision.NSSF was responsive enough to provide them but there was a complete deaf response from NHIF till today. I repeatedly wrote to the Ombudsman asking if there was a response from NHIF and they were also silent.The question pertaining to why the Ombudsman never got back was answered last week when NHIF CEO and finance director were arrested and charged with conspiring to defeat justice by denying criminal investigators access to desired documents.If detectives who were enforcing a court order can be denied access to public information how will an ordinary citizen access them?This is the huge gap in our transparency reforms cause. Kenya has adopted laws that make government more visible in its procedural norms but unfortunately the laws are not making government responsive to scrutiny. The symbiotic link between open government and an active government is actually attenuated.Now, this credibility gap has risen from the fact that the fight against corruption and transparency reforms have actually been looked at as an end it itself when ideally the end should be to restore faith of the public in governmental agencies and enable such agencies to function in a more equitable fashion.Kenya’s public sector is pervasively corrupt and the fear and mistrust characterising this public view has seriously weakened its effectiveness. Most recent is the presidential directive mandating all public servants to undergo a lifestyle audit in a fundamental effort to rein in corrupt public officials.

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The process has been shrouded with a lot of opaqueness on the parameters of the vetting process and with no public involvement to enhance quality and legitimacy of the outcome.For example, in mid this year, this newspaper was able to out a public servant earning a gross salary of between Sh133,940 and Sh161,800 but living a multimillionaire’s lifestyle of opulence. We are yet to hear or see any remedial action taken against him.Now, if the end-game was to build public confidence, swift action would have been taken so as to strengthen anti-corruption enforcement precipitating more exposures by the public coming to light which would not only have help “disinfect” institutions but also bring about effective, responsive and administrative accountability.So, as the new CEO of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission prepares to take office, the most fundamental goal for the commission in delivering their mandate should be centred on securing public confidence in government.This is because when public officials and institutions become subject to more policies of formal openness and accountability, they tend to perceive the demands for transparency as a threat to the functioning and legitimacy of those institutions.There is also the need for Kenya to establish checked-and-balanced ethical measures that will enhance service delivery, accountability and increase confidence in the public-sector system.First, information on declared assets filed by public officers should be fully open for public access and at the same time regularly updated like on a year-to-year basis. This will give the public the right of information to scrutinise public officers and also lead to more accurate assets declaration information.Second, I remain a strong proponent that public officers owe undivided loyalty to government and decisions, advice and recommendations they make should only be in public interest. Therefore, the law should be amended to demand that all commercial activities by public officers be placed under a blind trust.Blind trust management is simply transferring assets to an independent company so that public officials can’t influence public decisions to favour their commercial activities.

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