13 March 2019

Kenya: Multi Agency Anti-Graft Team Urges Stricter Laws, Denies Bias

Nairobi — A multi-agency team tasked with combating corruption has asked Senators to help it in fast tracking the enactment of what they have described as "critical legal reforms" that will aid them in the fight against corruption, economic crimes and recovery of proceeds of crimes.

The request from the enforcement and prosecutorial agencies came even as they categorically insisted on Wednesday during a Senate session that the war on corruption is not targeting any individual or community.

In their renewed effort to slay the dragon that has proved to be monumental and a political subject that has dominated the political arena for a while now, the team noted that they are always guided by principles and claims of witch hunt were purely fabricated by politicians.

In their submissions when they appeared before the Senate Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, the team comprising Attorney General Paul Kihara, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) CEO Twalib Mbarak, Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) George Kinoti, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji, Director of Assets Recovery Muthoni Kimani and officials drawn from the Kenya Revenue Authority said ratification of their proposals by the legislators would deal a major blow to individuals implicated in corruption or any other serious related economic crimes.

Led by team leader AG Kihara, the heads of the enforcement and prosecutorial agencies in unison insisted on the need to have a provision in law where public or State officers charged with corruption related offences immediately relinquish their positions to pave way for investigations devoid of any interference.

"The aspect of stepping aside is critical in the process of seeking justice. If an individual has been charged, it is ridiculous for that same individual to be allowed to resume their time and then in the process get to harass witnesses in the case pitting them," he said.

The Anti-Corruption and Economic Act (62) 1 calls for a suspension of a public or State officer who is charged with an offence of corruption or economic crime, at half pay from the date of being charged, until completion of the case.

Kihara argued before the Samson Cherarkey (Nandi) led committee that the section should be amended to add the words after State officer "who exercises executive functions", this, directly targeting governors.

The team cited lack of a clear legislative framework for stepping aside by State officers when under investigations or prosecution as one of the biggest hindrance in achieving solid convictions.

In particular, the anti-graft boss Mbarak cited cases of specific governors who had been charged with corruption but lamented that despite them taking pleas in court they still hold public office.

Due to a lack of clarity in law subjecting State and public officers implicated in corruption to step aside, President Uhuru Kenyatta's directive which he issued in 2015 on the same has proved to be hard to execute.

"Different governors for instance have been charged in courts, but their existence in office continues to portend challenges in terms of them tampering with evidence and witnesses leading to interference with investigations and prosecution," Mbarak said.

Senator Mithika Linturi (Meru) lauded the proposal by the team but cautioned that it's formulation should be well thought out to avoid cases where individuals are forced to step aside but later are acquitted by the court.

"There needs to be a specific threshold where governors for instance are ejected from office where they are under probe. We cannot afford to be the ones ending the careers of people and destroying their lives," he said.

Senator Mutula Kilonzo (Makueni) warned the team that they should cease dramatizing how they conduct the execution of high-profile cases and concentrate more on achieving successfully convictions.

"You can only be seen working if you stop treating Kenyans to unnecessary drama that is normally characterized by the arrests of the individuals implicated in graft," he said.

The courts which have been on many occasions accused of acting as a deterrent in the war against corruption was once again put on the spot, with Mombasa Senator Mohammed Faki proposing for the need to have a timeline for the hearing of high-profile cases.

"There are cases in courts which have dragged for years but I believe it is high time a provision is created where such cases are heard within a specific timeline like the election petitions," he proposed.

On his part, DPP Haji noted that procurement laws need to be tightened citing it as one of the significant contributors to corruption.

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