Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Crooked top officials should take a fall - PLO

CNN -- Kenya's senior officials cannot be treated as "sacred cows" if the East African nation wants to root out corruption, according to the country's anti-graft chief. Calling for an end to impunity for high-level corruption, Professor PLO Lumumba, head of the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC), said: "The problem that we have had in this country is impunity, that we have had a judicial system in many years whose only claim to fame has been to sanitize individuals."

Kenya, although the largest economy in East Africa and a key trade route into the rest of the continent, has been plagued by corruption that permeates all levels of society. According to anti-corruption group Transparency International only 19 countries in the world are perceived as more corrupt. CNN's Robyn Curnow spoke to Lumumba about the steps that need to be taken against high-level corruption. 

CNN: How worrying is the issue of corruption in Kenya?

PLO Lumumba: It worries everybody -- I think there is unanimity in government and outside of it, that the long-term health of our country not only demands but requires that we address the issue of corruption.

CNN: How do you really stamp out corruption when you say it literally is endemic across all strata of society?

PL: That is what one would call the $1 million question. As an institution we hold the view that is all those three approaches conjoined -- namely education, prevention and enforcement, that will lead us into the right direction -- and we cannot afford the luxury of optimism.

CNN: I've been in Kibera in the slum -- people to survive have to pay bribes on various levels, so kids very young learn that you need a backhand here, a little side tax here, and that's the nature of Kenyan society; it's incredibly hard to really shift that mentality because it's so ingrained in this country.

PL: I'm glad to hear you say incredibly hard but not impossible. We must admit that you cannot sustainably have a country where the policeman on the beat, the individual who visits the hospital, the young person who attends school, the business person who is seeking a permit, must pay certain undocumented monies as a condition to accessing those services. And this realization, in my view, is the beginning of the change that will allow us to deal with the root course of the problem rather than dealing with the symptoms.

CNN: Corruption is at the very highest levels of government here. Nobody's ever been charged for corruption in this country -- surely that needs to change?

PL: Without doubt. I can't agree with you more that there is a need for symbolic action, based on the law, as is required in every democratic disposition.

CNN: But don't you think that it is necessary that big men need to take a fall for this?

PL: Yes, I can't agree with you more.

CNN: So, is that in your sights?

PL: Yes, without doubt, and I've stated it times without number that going forward we cannot have a situation where there are sacred cows.

CNN: There is a concern that there's sort of platitudes and there's a process but it's never really actually finalized that somebody goes to jail for outrageous levels of corruption, billions of dollars. People are still sitting out there saying, "listen, there's impunity here."

PL: I can't agree with you more that the problem that we have had in this country is impunity, that we have had a judicial system in many years whose only claim to fame has been to sanitize individuals. And that is why we become the first country in relative peace in post-independent Africa to vet its entire judiciary, because we realize that it has not behaved as it should have.

CNN: You agree with me, I agree with you, but these guys are still up there, the Kenyan elites, eating from the trough, sucking dry government resources.

PL: A little level of cynicism is permitted, but I cannot allow myself to be a cynic. I hold the view that, for example, we as an organization are in a position to put together credible evidence.

CNN: So you're not toothless.

PL: No, I can't agree that we are toothless. If we were toothless we wouldn't have taken up this job. We have the task of investigating individuals and I hold the view that these new institutions which are being re-energized have a very clear message from the Kenyan public that this time round you've got to do what you've got to do. If we hold this conversation next year -- hold in constant the enthusiasm and the energy that I see here and today -- I will be in a position to say "behold -- it has happened and the cynics have been let down, and the country's moving forward."

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