Thursday, August 31, 2023

Misplaced love

One of the legacies of the Mwai Kibaki government was the widespread adoption of corporate buzzwords to hide the graft that public officials engaged in. Few Kenyans noticed until it was too late. It emboldened public officials many of whom were elected or appointed in county governments, Kenya's newest experiment in participatory government. In Eldoret, the seat of County Government of Uasin Gishu, public officials and well-connected businessmen have taken graft and fraud to untold heights.

It is reported in the Kenyan tabloid press that the county government established a scholarship fund for secondary school graduates to attend universities in Canada and Finland. In order to be eligible, the students and their families were required to contribute to a trust fund, which was under the control of county government officials. Apparently, over 950 million shillings was paid into the trust fund. The programme enjoyed initial success; dozens of residents of Uasin Gishu County have been enrolled in universities in Canada and Finland. However, it is now reported that fees are no longer been remitted to the foreign universities where the students are enrolled and, consequently, the students are are at risk of being discontinued and if that happens, their immigration status is endangered.

Further reports indicate that tens of millions of shillings have been withdrawn from the trust fund in unexplained circumstances. The officials, including the former governor (and current senator) deny any wrongdoing even as they refuse to explain how and why the scholarship programme appears to no longer sponsor students.

Meanwhile, a labour recruiter has reportedly undertaken a similar scheme of her own. She has collected tens of millions from young jobseekers with promises of employment in the Middle East. She appears to be engaged in a scam similar to ones that have been uncovered in Nairobi. She has denied wrongdoing and has dared the Senate (which purported to be investigating the matter) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to prove that she is a fraud. Not even the allegations and pleas by her victims have compelled her to offer a credible explanation as to the true status of her business operations.

Both the county government officials and the labour recruiter could only be this bold because they knew that the forces of law and order would not trouble them overmuch. Indeed, the past six months have witnessed the collapse and withdrawal of economic crimes prosecutions on such a scale as to bring into doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice investigatory and prosecutory framework. This is one of the legacies of the Mwai Kibaki government. While in the 2003 to 2013 period only state officers could hope to escape criminal convictions and judicial sentences, it seems that even halfwitted fly-by-night fraudsters are not overly afraid of the police, the DPP or the courts.

The contempt for the law is widespread. It is witnessed in petty and grand ways. One cannot but see the consequences of such contempt, whether it is the increasing cases of fraud by even small-fry government officials and obscure labour recruiters in district backwaters no one thought of. The increasing ineffectiveness of the fraud investigators and prosecutors, despite their apparent constitutional, legal and operational independence, undermines what little faith we have in the government, both as an institution and a reflection of our national values and principles. The last ten years were quite favourable to the memory of Mwai Kibaki. An analysis of the graft that pervades the firmaments of the state might show that such warm feelings for Mwai Kibaki are misplaced.

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