Just declare your wealth, it's not as if we’re going to take it away from you...

Wednesday June 27 2018

Kenyan politician Martha Karua displays her wealth declaration documents

Kenyan politician Martha Karua displays her wealth declaration documents on January 14, 2013. There are no repercussions for those who do not declare their wealth nor those in whose cases discrepancies are found. PHOTO | NMG 

By NERIMA WAKO-OJIWA
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In 2002, I remember my father driving me and my younger brother through downtown Nairobi.

My father loved taking us for long drives around the capital, just taking in the scenic beauty of the City in the Sun. After our ride, we would always end up in the CBD, where he would buy us ice cream in this very old but classic ice cream store on Koinange Street that still stands today.

There is one particular day that I remember vividly. As we were passing Uhuru Park and coming into town from Kenyatta Avenue, we passed a motorcade surrounded by political supporters chanting, "Rainbow! Rainbow! Rainbow!"

I always sat at the back as my younger brother sat in the front seat with my father. I remember being fascinated to see a woman standing in the sun roof of a moving Prado.

It was Charity Ngilu with her fist held high! Chanting those very words. Then I saw my father roll down his window and join in, "Rainbow! Rainbow!" As he drove past the motorcade, some men ran to his window to shake his hand. A sense of brotherhood existed among strangers.

I was not yet of voting age, but I remember wishing I was. That year, Kenya was officially the most optimistic country in the world. People had taken charge of their lives.

Like I said, I was too young to vote, but I remember wishing that I was! It was a time when we as a people all collectively knew what was best for the country.

Ordinary citizens wanted to get rid of the vice called corruption and for the country to make progress.

President Mwai Kibaki was voted in on the explicit promise that he would get rid of corruption. During Kibaki's inauguration, he announced the Public Officer Ethics Act, which required government employees to declare their wealth, to deter them from stealing public funds.

The Act applied to all civil servants, all 660,000 of them. Tanzania and Uganda only required key positions to fill the declarations. Kenya made it compulsory for all civil servants including their spouses and children.

Family affairs

This made sense; looking at the current scandals, the first business partners in any quick money venture are close relatives. However, the fact that this information was not computerised and further had to be kept for 30 years, meant that storage space quickly became a problem.

In May 2007, the United Nations awarded Kenya its annual Public Service Award “for improving transparency, accountability and responsiveness in the public sector.” Although the Kibaki administration received awards, including from the World Bank, the Act failed to offer any guidance on what action should be taken if wrongdoing emerged. Not a single public officer was prosecuted during President Kibaki's time.

Fast forward to 16 years later. I have witnessed three other elections and the rhetoric has remained the same; corruption not only continues to prevail but appears to be on the rise due to devolution.

The annual reports by the Auditor General appear more daunting with every passing year. President Uhuru Kenyatta, surprise, surprise, recently announced that civil servants will have to declare their wealth.

The question is, what are the repercussions for those who do not declare their wealth? What about those in whose cases discrepancies are found?

What legal actions will be taken against them? What other systems have been put in place for better tracking and record keeping? As of now, we appear to be reading from the same script but with a different cast.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place, a Kenyan political hub dedicated to mainstreaming youth and women into politics. Twitter: @Nerimaw

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