The Nation (Nairobi)

Kenya: Ombudsman Comes to the Aid of Disgruntled Citizens

Nairobi — The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission has received nearly 22,000 complaints since it was set up, but only 2,860 or 13 per cent of these have been investigated.

Staff of PCSC go about their work at the their temporary offices at the Co-operative House building . Photos/FILE and Hezron Njoroge

The rest of the cases, which date as far back as 2005, could not be investigated because the complainants had reported matters beyond the commission's mandate, Dr John Mutonyi, the assistant director in charge of investigations said.

Whereas KACC was formed to investigate matters relating to economic crime and corruption, Kenyans have been contacting it to register issues to do with marital problems, difficulties in claiming pension and insurance dues, inability to afford legal charges as well as delayed court cases.

Take over

But there is light at the end of the tunnel for these disgruntled Kenyans as the office of the Ombudsman, which was established in June last year, can take up their cases when it is fully operational.

"We believe that they will take over more than 80 per cent of the cases that are beyond our mandate," Dr Mutonyi told the Nation.

The Ombudsman is appointed by the Government to investigate complaints against it by private individuals. In Kenya it is established as the Public Complaints Standing Committee whose four members are appointed by the President.

Its serving chairman is Mr James Simani and the executive director, who also serves as the chief executive officer, is appointed by the Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs minister.

Court awards

Based at the Ministry of Justice headquarters at the Cooperative Bank House, the committee has so far received about 400 complaints, including referrals from KACC.

"Most are administrative problems. Kenyans are complaining about delayed and miscalculated pension claims, paid for but disconnected electricity supply, insurance claims and vehicle registration problems," said the committee's executive director Kenneth Mwige.

Others include allegations of unfair sackings and dismissals, irregular recruitment and remuneration as well as disagreements with lawyers over court awards.

Dr Mutonyi says KACC is looking forward to the day the Ombudsman will begin operating at full capacity, citing the rising congestion in its reports office.

At the moment, the anti-graft body receives complaints from 36 Kenyans daily.

And going by Economic Survey 2008, compiled by the Kenya Bureau of Statistics, cases being reported to the anti-graft commission are on the increase.

"Wrangling couples are coming here while they are supposed to go to other places," said Mrs Grace Namachanja, KACC's senior analyst at the Report and Data Centre.

And the Public Complaints Standing Committee will definitely not be at liberty to act on some of the matters Kenyans have been reporting, says Mr Mwige.

However, it has a wide scope concerning the matters that it will handle.

Beyond corruption, misuse of office and unethical conduct, President Mwai Kibaki, in a gazette notice, mandates the committee to inquire into other allegations against public officers.

This includes breach of integrity, maladministration, delaying justice, discourtesy, inattention, incompetence, misbehaviour, inefficiency and ineptitude.

With a starting budget of about Sh65 million this year, the committee is currently recruiting staff for its secretariat.

According to Mr Mwige, it will have 30 members of staff, including administrators, lawyers, counsellors, media and customer care experts.

"So far we've found out that many complainants, especially those having family problems, are depressed and require counselling. Because we shall not turn anybody away, we are also recruiting experts in that field," he said.

Operating at full capacity, the committee hopes to serve more than 200 Kenyans every day. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, too, has been receiving complaints that befit the PCSC.

The other function of the committee is to oversee, coordinate, monitor and follow up specific action on channelled complaints.

Mr Mwige explains: "Once we receive a complaint, we forward it to the relevant authority and follow up the matter to the satisfaction of the complainant."

The PCSC is also supposed "to receive, register, sort, classify and document all complaints against public officers in ministries, parastatals, statutory bodies or any other public institution."

Going by some of the complaints being handled so far, Mr Mwige says he expects to work closely with other bodies like the Capital Markets Authority, the Central Bank and the Insurance Regulator.

Adds Mrs Namachanja: "Judging by the complaints we've been receiving, the committee will also need to work with the Advocates Complaints Commission and the Free Legal Aid Scheme."

The committee, which reports to the President on a quarterly basis, has also been empowered to recommend "appropriate legislative reforms" as well as "compensation or any other remedial action against Government bodies or officers."

The PCSC also intends to set up offices in the provinces and districts to take the service closer to the people. "But it is not possible to do this at the moment due to the budgetary constraints," Mr Mwige says.

And as the committee settles down to work, KACC yearns the relief that will come with it, hoping that this will enable it to pursue its core mandate - economic crimes and corruption.

The anti-corruption body says that bribery is the most prevalent of the cases they are investigating.

Police officers are at the top of the bribery index, with 45 per cent of all complainants accusing them.

"City council askaris follow closely," said Mrs Namachanja.

Abuse of office and embezzlement of public funds are other crimes that rank high on the KACC investigations list.

According to the anti-graft body, most of the embezzlement cases have pointed accusing fingers at the Constituency Development Fund and the Free Primary Education programme.

Extortion

Extortion is also at the top of the KACC scale of prevalence, with most reports accusing police officers stationed at roadblocks and at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

KACC is also shifting its conventional methods of detecting crime, from relying on complaints to engaging intelligence.

"We realised that the public may not be aware of big corrupt deals. Very few people have access to confidential information," said Dr Mutonyi.

He went on: "We shall also concentrate on the disruptive approach where we shall detect a potential corrupt deal and stop it before it is sealed."

But both the KACC and the PCSC lack the powers to prosecute cases in court. This limitation, KACC officials have said, has adversely affected its success.

The officials point at the corruption cases against ministers, assistant ministers, permanent secretaries, parastatal chiefs and other influential people in society that haven't bore fruit in court.

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