If there is good thing that ever happened in Kenya last week then it was the public spat between the Director of the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC) PLO Lumumba and Lands Minister James Orengo over alleged corruption in the latter’s docket.
Lumumba had earlier in the week joined his fellow lawyers in a demonstration against the perceived high level of corruption at the Lands Ministry.
Lands Permanent Secretary Dorcas Angote, herself a lawyer, addressed her colleagues who were conducting an unusual business around her office.
Interestingly her boss, a lawyer too, found a bare-knuckled opportunity to tear into anti-graft czar Lumumba accusing him of playing to the public gallery instead of prosecuting lands officers that were corrupt.
Without delay, Lumumba hit back again at his ‘learned friend’ arguing rightly as he did that Orengo’s past role in the multi party struggle is not a basis to rate the minister’s less lustrous performance in government. It didn’t stop there.
Notably Lumumba, and without expounding, mentioned that Orengo’s attack on him was “personal”. It is this bit that Kenyans needed to know more about so that the ugly spat could be put into proper context.
Granted, the war of words between the two will unlikely end soon. Perhaps more salient details will emerge. But a few lessons so far from the Lumumba-Orengo soap opera will suffice.
First, there is no law in the land which suspends the rights of an individual when he or she takes up a public office. In this regard, Lumumba was within his right to move and associate on a cause which was neither an illegality nor security threat.
Second, the bitter exchanges between the two gentlemen served to create a rare awareness and media attention to the crisis of high proportions that is corruption within Ardhi House.
Fact is that Orengo found a deep-seated corruption at the Ministry. He will most likely leave it intact if the same will not climb up. While third party blanket corruption allegations make little sense, one does not fight corruption by being overly defensive of an institution he clearly has little control over.
There have been far too many promises of change that never come at Ardhi House. Talk of computerising records, for instance, was good but little is in the public domain about what it may have achieved.
Using the same alleged corrupt forces to stop corruption at the Lands Ministry is a joke that is akin to computerising corruption and therefore retaining it but changing to an impervious format for the ordinary eye.
The Ministry has poor record keeping of basics like inventories of public land specifically for local authorities which some forces have colluded to defraud the public in ways and means that will take nothing short of a miracle to recover it. For instance who would trust a master inventory of public land from Ardhi House?
Orengo should not have politicised the straightforward public demonstration by Lumumba, among other lawyers. Regrettably, he goofed by exposing himself and his Ministry in bad light.
The Lands Minister does not need an “Octopus prediction” to appreciate that he has not done enough on corruption as he would like Lumumba and other Kenyans to reckon.
Again failing to prosecute corrupt officers at the Lands Ministry could mean many things. One: There could be no corruption after all! Two: the KACC officers could fall victims of what they are fighting.
Additionally, evidence could be insufficient to stand trial or that KACC officers could not be receiving “cooperation” to the extent that their boss opted for the streets instead of summoning a high level meeting with those having the last say at the Lands Ministry.
By appearing defensive, and failing to expound on the “personal” bit of allegation, the eloquent lawyer sounded a pale shadow of what his otherwise impressive multiparty reform history. History is always not about today and tomorrow. Orengo should better know that we are not living in the ‘yesterday’.
That is not to say Lumumba’s side has no issues! Clearly, Lumumba erred by appearing in a public demonstration before bringing up any substantive recommendation of prosecution on senior officers allegedly implicated in crime.
While he was certainly in order to participate in the demonstration, it was a little premature especially for his office. The demonstration should have been the last resort assuming his justification was that he was that Orengo could be interfering with KACC investigations or that the Director of Public Prosecutions was too dismissive of his evidence against corrupt persons.
Even then, Lumumba should have first put the same in his quarterly report to Parliament. Still if he was convinced that a demo was the best way to go, it should have been purely under the flagship of KACC and not any other entity least of all the Law Society of Kenya (LSK).
Kenyans know and indeed it takes no genius to know that for every corrupt land changing hands, there must be a lawyer to solemnise the transaction. If there are serious corruption cases at the Lands Ministry as Kenyans are made to believe, then there are many lawyers involved. Period!
Under the circumstances, therefore, Kenyans need to plead with Orengo and Lumumba to carry on with the public spat so they can have a real peek into the issues of the twin issues of lands corruption and the legal fraternity.
By the way, was LSK demonstrating against itself?
(Stephen Mutoro is the Secretary General, Consumers Federation of Kenya -COFEK)