Chief Magistrate Elizabeth Juma sentenced a Kenyan MP, John Walukhe (yes, you read that right), to serve 67 years in prison while his co-accused Grace Wakhungu 69 years if they don’t pay fines amounting to more than Ksh2 billion ($19 million) for fraudulently receiving Ksh297 million ($2.7 million) from the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB).
NCPB buys maize and other grains on behalf of the government. It is part of a government mechanism to ensure supply of these staples in times of shortages caused by drought or other emergencies. In other words, NCPB is part of a strategy to cushion the most vulnerable communities from hunger and starvation.
The two are wealthy individuals but they still needed more money. In his Nelson Mandela lecture, former US president Barrack Obama called the insatiable hunger for money an indication of “a poverty of ambition”. When you consider that, in Kenya, this unending search means stealing from the mouths of the poor and starving, then this not just “a poverty of ambition”. It is a pathology at the heart of Kenya’s crisis of development.
What shocks observers is that these schemes that rob generations of a future are simple and executed with a casual inhumanity.
In the Goldenberg scandal of the early 90s, government officials colluded with fraudsters to steal billions of shillings.
The Anglo-leasing scam which again cost Kenya billions of shillings was also executed in similar fashion. Likewise, multiple heists at the National Youth Service and countless other state agencies.
The amounts involved in all these heists are so staggering; one wonders what the money is used for. How many mansions and helicopters and land can one buy?
Well, for the public officials involved, there is no such thing as enough multi-million shilling vehicles, mansions, or money in on and offshore accounts.
Eddie Levert sang a song to this money madness: For-the-love-of money-some-will-kill-their-own-brother.
But there is a more insidious effect of these stolen billions. They are used to sustain a political culture that ensures mediocre individuals and people of no integrity continue to manage our affairs and make decisions about our future.
The chief magistrate’s decision has sent shock waves to the ‘thieving class’. It was always so easy to get away with corruption.
Officials now facing corruption charges are shaking in their multimillion shilling attires.
A Rwandan journalist once told me that it is not that corruption does not exist in his country, but Rwanda did was to make risks of corruption so high that only the truly foolhardy would dare attempt it. Will Elizabeth’s Juma’s action and the growing judicial intolerance for graft have a similar effect?
Corruption drains resources and contaminates our body politic and our value system which are the materials with which to build proper nations.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based commentator.