19 February 2005

Kenya: Sack Officials, Clergy Tells President

Nairobi — Pressure mounted on the President to sack top government officials involved in corruption with 33 Anglican bishops saying no one should be spared.

All those mentioned in graft allegations, including ministers, should be prosecuted, the bishops said.

"When Narc came to power they said there would be no sacred cows or protection of a clique or trusted cronies," the clergy said in a statement after a day-long meeting to discuss the constitutional review, insecurity and health.

Although the church recognised the Government's success in education, agriculture, the Judiciary and "marginal" growth in the Gross Domestic Product, it was deeply concerned about high-level corruption, they said.

"Graft initiated in the former regime is not a reason not to suppress initiation of new ones," said Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi in a statement after the meeting at Jumuia Conference and Country Home in Limuru.

Official graft had tainted the Government's image and few people now believed it was committed to fighting it.

The vice worsened poverty and increased the gap between the rich and poor, making Kenya second only to Brazil in the inequality index.

The church called for a mechanism to ensure wrongdoers were held accountable and the innocent were protected.

"The looters of public coffers should be taken to court and treated as criminals. The talk of corrupt ministers shows something is wrong. Kenyans need to see action," the archbishop said.

Those who accompanied the archbishop as he read the statement were bishops Gideon Githiga (Thika), William Wako (the provincial secretary), Gideon Ireri (Mbeere), Stephen Njihia (Nakuru), Samson Mwaludu (Taita Taveta), Eliud Okiring (Katakwa), Thomas Kogo (Eldoret) and Stephen Kewasis (Kitale).

However, the church asked donors not to freeze aid to protest official corruption. That would only "hurt poor Kenyans."

"The donors should reconsider their position to save the poor," the bishops said.

Asked what the church would do if graft persisted or if there was any timeframe for the Government to implement the recommendations, Archbishop Nzimbi said: "It is up to the Government to give correct leadership. It should fulfil its obligations."

The church vowed to "continue playing our role as the voice of the voiceless."

A controversy on high-level corruption was sparked by British High Commissioner Edward Clay, who a fortnight ago said the vice flourished in the corridors of power and presented to the President a list of 20 "dodgy deals" under the Narc administration that would cost the Government billions of shillings.

The envoy's recent attack attracted mixed reaction from donors, religious, political and civil society leaders, and followed his famous remark last year - a reaction to official graft - that some in Government "eat like gluttons" and then "vomit all over the shoes" of donors.

Sir Edward's fresh attack was followed by the resignation of anti-corruption czar John Githongo, while he was on a visit to London.

United States Ambassador William Bellamy announced his country's suspension of Sh200 million aid to anti-graft institutions following Sir Edward's statement.

Eighteen European Union member countries also warned that they would reconsider financing development projects if bold and decisive steps were not taken to end corruption.

At risk is the Sh12 billion budgetary support from the EU.

Japanese Ambassador Satoru Miyamura said his country would review aid to Kenya if corruption at high level persisted.

President Kibaki on Monday reshuffled his cabinet and dismissed permanent secretaries Sammy Kyungu of Defence and Dave Mwangi of Internal Security but spared their boss, Dr Chris Murungaru, who swapped places with Transport minister John Michuki.

The clergymen also accused MPs of hijacking the constitutional review process and urged the Government to jump-start it.

"No one person or group has a solution. We need participatory approval," they said.

A lot of time was wasted through wrangling among politicians at the expense of service to Kenyans. The clergy said Kenyans should vote out the leaders in 2007 if the wrangling continued.

The clergy further threw their weight behind the controversial National Social Health Insurance Scheme championed by Health minister Charity Ngilu and urged Parliament to support it too.

The clergy were concerned that the health sector was faced with many challenges, including poor infrastructure and lack of drugs, denying Kenyans access to basic health care.

The NSHIS "philosophy and principle" were noble and could promote access of health services by the poor.

"Parliament should now deal with the clauses that the President referred back to them for accountability and quality health services to all Kenyans."

The bishops called for the church and other stakeholders to be involved in the management of the scheme.

The asked that the premium contribution be affordable to all Kenyans, strict measures be put in place to ensure transparency and accountability and the Government liaise with religious groups to educate the public on the importance of the scheme "to avoid public conflicts".

The scheme aims to give every Kenyan medical cover.

Although Mrs Ngilu said it would cost taxpayers Sh40 billion annually, other analysts put the figure at between Sh70 and Sh120 billion.

Last year the Bill was removed from the order paper of Parliament by Vice-President Moody Awori, who is the Leader of Government Business, and Mrs Ngilu walked out in a huff.

When the Bill was returned to the House, the MPs passed it but the President Kibaki has not assented to it.

Finance minister David Mwiraria said the Government could not afford to finance the scheme.

The bishops cited free primary education, the purge in the Judiciary, improvement in agriculture and the rise in GDP as some of Narc's achievements.

"Little else has changed," they said.

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