The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Interview With John Githongo On Anglo Leasing

interview

1. In as few words as possible - and as simply as possible - tell us: What was Anglo Leasing all about?

Essentially the Government of Kenya entered into contracts - dubbed 'security contracts' which meant they could be single sourced.

The 'lease finance' arrangements for these contracts purportedly approved by the cabinet meant that instead of the Government of Kenya going to suppliers directly for assorted goods and services, middlemen created companies which 'lent' money to the Kenyan government to purchase the goods.

This happened even in cases where the countries from whom we were purchasing goods were willing to give us concessionary loans to purchase the goods because they recognised the business helped keep their citizens employed and those particular industries flourishing.

The provenance of these financing entities that the government entered into 'contracts' with were often dubious: they used false addresses, demonstrated absolutely no capacity to act as 'financiers', were determined to keep hidden who the beneficial owners of the entities were etc.

Suspicions were heightened in 2004 when, after my office asked simple questions about these entities and the contracts they had been given, they proceeded to wire back the money (around US$12 million in total between May and August 2004) without revealing themselves to us or even complaining that their contracts had been 'cancelled'. To this day it's still slightly grey who in the government picked up the phone and called who to get the money wired back.

Unfortunately, some of the contracts (there were 18 contentious ones in total worth US$777 million) were aimed at delivering services and goods in the security sector that were intended at bolstering the infrastructure of fighting terror and enhancing security generally. And yet it was these contracts that seemed most inflated; where regard for quality was lowest and in some cases, no goods seemed to be delivered at all.

So Kenyans at the very best were hugely over-paying for critical security materials and services or paying for stuff that was never delivered. To add insult to injury we were paying 'interest' on 'loans' to the financing entities supplying the 'goods'.

Of course finally, the outrage was senior officials who came to me directly and indirectly admitting that these dodgy deals were meant to mobilise resources for them for wider political purposes and, from what I could see, for personal purposes as well. By the time I resigned my position in the Government of Kenya, only one senior office in the government blithely maintained the lie that kickbacks and corruption were non-existent in these contracts.

It is deeply ironic to me that there is such a huge palaver about Operation Usalama Watch right now. If greed had not overcome procurement in the security sector ten years ago, it is likely that we would not be seeking recourse in the kind of extreme anti-people measures that we are resorting to right now faced with the threat of terror.

2. An argument has been made that Kenya really has no choice but to pay these alleged debts. That judgment has been entered in European courts, and there is really no way out. Can you comment on this?

Firstly, we are still not being told exactly WHO we are paying; who has sued us exactly, not their proxies but the names of the beneficial owners of the entities suing us!

Why? Who are the ghosts? Secondly, the State Law Office has shown a dereliction in regard to defending the public interest in these matters that verges on the criminal.

They, and a range of officials, can be surcharged for selling Kenyans short on these matters. I remain convinced personally that Kenya was not properly defended in these cases, and in some instances these officials actually deliberately seemed to facilitate the courts to find against the Kenyan people. With regard to the court crders, see below.

3. You were a key adviser to President Mwai Kibaki in the early days of his presidency. If you were advising President Uhuru Kenyatta now, what would you counsel him to do about this Anglo Leasing scandal?

I'd say, "If you pay these contracts using Kenyan taxes then stop talking about corruption." To his credit, President Kibaki stopped going on about corruption from around November 2004.

There is some disingenuity on the part of some officials pushing so hard for us to 'comply with court orders' when it comes to paying ghosts, yet they don't feel the irony of disregarding court orders with regard to orders vis-à-vis teachers, nurses, doctors and other public officials and their remuneration etc. The parliamentary committee on finance and budget seems more afraid of ghosts than Kenyan public servants.

That said, I would tell him, "There are millions of dollars of cash frozen, say in Switzerland, that have been found to belong to some of the key architects allegedly behind Anglo Leasing". I spent a considerable amount of my time when I was in public office searching for these corruptly-acquired funds around the world.

There are possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and property that can be linked to these 'ghosts' in a variety of other jurisdictions. I would advise: "Use this already frozen money to pay the court order! Don't use taxpayers money, use the Anglo Leasers' cash! It's sitting there... "

4. The Anglo Leasing saga has been ongoing for well over ten years. Where do you see it all ending up?

I have been surprised to find that a decade later, Anglo Leasing still causes a measure of public opprobria despite the state resources that have been dedicated to trying to explain it away; essentially to get Kenyans to accept that - "hey, this is life, it's the way things get done in Kenya and in Africa! Africans are corrupt! We are thieves!"

Curiously it is as if some of us have internalised a distorted upside -down racist external view of Africa and Africans; but this is being resisted - especially, by younger generations.

Recently, I have even read in a local paper the most incredibly dishonest intellectual alchemy by a generation of pseudo-intellectuals and academic mercenaries who argue that the 'fight against corruption' is the new Western plot against Africa!

It is true that that the global system has exposed considerable double standards with regard to corruption especially in the West after the financial crisis of 2007/8: their thieves are simply too big to fail.

In the same vein, Western governments are finally beginning to start dealing with their very own tax havens that have been essential to the looting of Africa at the very same time their governments were preaching to us about good governance, anti-corruption, transparency, accountability etc.

That doesn't alter the meaning of the thievery Kenyans are victim to here in our own country and its consequences. Often, leaders underestimate just how knowledgeable ordinary Kenyans are. They have made up their minds about this type of corruption with some clarity. I reckon that's the problem with 'ghosts' - they don't go away until they are exorcised with the truth.

5. Your role as whistle blower over Anglo Leasing, almost cost you your life - and certainly cost you your career in government. If you could go back in time to the very day that President Kibaki appointed you as PS, Ethics and Governance, what would you do differently?

Initially, my advice to the Kibaki team while they were still in opposition was to create a Ministry of Governance and Ethics. Once elected, things changed. Instead they created a bureaucratic position within the Office of the President called Permanent Secretary Governance and Ethics.

This had its pros and cons. Actually, at first we didn't even know what to call the office because it hadn't been conceived the way it was now rolled out. I was invited to take this position and I felt humbled to be asked to serve Kenyans in this capacity and accepted. In hindsight, which is always easy to say - we should have stuck to the original plan and created a full ministry

John Githongo spoke to Wycliffe Muga, the Weekend Star editor.

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