Many in Kenya have long seen devolution, as promised and proclaimed in our Constitution, as an important development for democracy. It allows every citizen to see where their taxes are going and creates a closer bond between electorate and elected official who is meant to serve the people.
However, devolution also has many darker sides and like any useful system can be open to abuse. More than anything else, the creation of extra layers of governance and bureaucracy means that many more people have access to government funds and with less centralised oversight comes the temptation to defraud and steal.
For too long, one of the greatest pastimes for governors and other regional officials was to create a fictional project, albeit professionally and legitimately necessary, that requires significant funds from the central government.
Sometimes, foundations would be built and then the project was halted, but frequently the project never left the drawing board but funds would be pocketed and while some noise would be made by the citizenry and some government officials, most would just move on until the next time.
Other schemes involve creating fictional companies in the name of friends and relatives and assuring them of a particular tender that is never realised.
However, these schemes could now be coming to an end under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s war on corruption and graft.
The highest level arrest to date in this war has been that of Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong, who was charged alongside nine other county officials for allegedly engaging in a scheme to defraud the county government of Busia KSh 8 million in 2014.
The charges emanate from investigations by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission which started in 2016.
The EACC says the governor single sourced a company called Madam R Ltd and gave it a tender for waste management. “There are no records of proper procurement procedures followed in awarding this tender,” a source at the EACC said.
Once the tender was awarded the county paid another company with a similar name, Madam R, but which was a sole proprietorship.
“The money was then transfered to an account in Germany,” said the EACC official privy to the details.
The anti-graft watchdog said there is no evidence that the company did any work or has the expertise.
“This was a phony company created to syphon cash from the county,” continued the EACC official.
This type of scheme happens far too frequently, but the arrest of Ojaamong has sent a chill down the spines of other regional elected officials. His arrest and temporary stay in a police cell rattled other county governors who demanded that they be accorded immunity from prosecution, much to the anger of the public.
However, President Kenyatta has let it be known on numerous occasions that no one is and should be above the law, regardless of their position or title.
The arrest of senior Kenya Power officials, Former PS, State Department of Youth Lillian MuthoniOmolloh, Former Director General, National Youth Service Richard Ndubai and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) former Managing Director Charles Ongwae, to name but a few of the high profile accused in recent months, attests to Uhuru’s steely and unprecedented determination.
Nevertheless, it remains at the regional and devolved level that corruption is perhaps most replete. It is the lack of a centralised oversight that allows fingers to raid lots of different pockets, sometimes far from the eyes of the authorities in Nairobi.
This is perhaps devolution’s greatest obstacle.
On the one hand, we do not want too much oversight from Nairobi because that is the point of devolved governance and this is welcomed by many Kenyans across the nation. On the other, we see that regional officials are creating fiction and illegitimate business practices to steal money from the people.
Ojaamong’s arrest is a tremendous shot across the bow in trying to tie up these loose ends to protect devolution. That the governors and other regional officials are starting to panic is a very good thing;they should put their affairs in order. They should know that while devolved practices are good for the nation and people, our elected leaders can not take advantage of democracy to enrich themselves at our expense.
Fighting corruption as Uhuru has been doing is thus protecting democracy and safeguarding devolution.