Moment of truth for hundreds of county staff as audit begins

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission chief executive officer Halakhe Waqo. He has confirmed that anti-graft detectives are in the process of conducting lifestyle audits in the 47 counties.

The noose is tightening around the necks of at least 140 senior and middle level staff across the 47 counties as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) investigates the source of their sudden wealth, believed to be running into millions of shillings.

EACC Chief Executive Officer  Halakhe Waqo confirmed that anti-graft detectives are in the process of conducting lifestyle audits and scrutinising the wealth declaration forms of the affected officers to establish whether their new found wealth, including mansions, commercial buildings and millions in bank accounts are accounted for.

The latest crackdown targets governors and their close aides, accountants and procurement officers in county governments.

“We are investigating at least three senior and middle level officers, people like governors and their close associates, procurement officers and accountants, people who sign documents, in each of the 47 counties,” Mr Waqo revealed.

PUBLIC OFFICERS

Also targeted are public officers serving in the national government, state corporations, the disciplined forces and other public institutions.

Mr Waqo told the Nation that a number of staff at the National Land Commission(NLC) have received notifications to justify the assets they have.

“At NLC, it is not just Swazuri and (Abigael) Mbagaya that we are conducting lifestyle audits on. There are many others,” Mr Waqo told the Nation in an interview. One of the officers at NLC, Mr Waqo said, has been issued with a six-page notice listing assets estimated at over Sh300 million he has acquired recently.

EACC wants the officer to explain how he acquired the assets. Mr Waqo revealed how a Mombasa based Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officer was found with over Sh200 million in his bank account.

EACC is also hot on the heels of a junior traffic policeman whose bank account contains millions yet his monthly net salary is around Sh15,000.

AMASSED PROPERTIES

“We chased this traffic policeman from Mombasa to Western because this is a man with a net salary of Sh15,000 but has millions in his bank account,” Mr Waqo revealed. Yet another county government official in Taita-Taveta county, also on EACC’s radar, has amassed properties running into millions of shillings in Voi town and its environs. A majority of those under investigations have, within a short time, acquired too much wealth, which is not commensurate with their salaries.

EACC is the agency mandated by the Public Officer Ethics Act to conduct such audits. Last week, Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong was arrested and taken to court and charged with abuse of office in connection with the loss of Sh8 million at the county government. He was released on a Sh1 million bond after spending two nights in custody.

More governors are set to face corruption charges in the coming days, the Nation has learnt.

But even at the scale EACC has been carrying out the audits, Mr Waqo said lack of an enabling legal framework and inadequate resources have hampered the exercise.

LIFESTYLE AUDIT

“For us to achieve a proper lifestyle audit, laws have to be changed and that has to start with sealing loopholes in the wealth declaration. Unless that is done, we will start the process but leave before we make any significant steps. I don’t want to be pessimistic but a lifestyle audit is an herculean task,” he said.

Mr Waqo lamented that Section 55 of the Public Officer Ethics Act, which deals with wealth declaration, was watered down by MPs, making it difficult to access the wealth declaration forms of individuals under investigation.

“By dint of the watered down Section 55 of the Act, wealth declaration forms are kept in sealed envelopes in a safe by the responsible entity. If, as an investigator, I want to access the same, I have to apply to the responsible entity,” he said.

After an investigator applies to access the wealth declaration form of an individual, the law requires that the individual is notified in advance and has to give consent for the declaration to be unsealed. The unsealing is done in the presence of the individual who may choose to be accompanied by a lawyer.

FINANCIAL OFFICER

In the case of former Nairobi chief financial officer Jimmy Kiamba and three others, Lilian Ndegwa, Regina Rotich and Stephen Osiro, who were accused of siphoning more than Sh20 million within a year, they objected to the unsealing of their declaration forms and obtained court orders to stop EACC and other investigative agencies from knowing what they own.

According to Mr Waqo, in 2013, there was a discussion with UNDP to amend the law and remove such obstacles by requiring public officials to file their declarations online which would be available to investigative agencies only without the need of seeking approvals.

However, the proposal was frustrated and, even though Mr Waqo says EACC has a computer software that was obtained from Romania which uses the same, “but the law does not help in administering it. The law, as it is now, only recognises physical paper declarations.”

Amid the widening rifts in Jubilee over the proposed audit, Mr Waqo said the politicians shouting hoarse about the exercise know nothing about it. In addition, Mr Waqo told the Sunday Nation that resources must also be provided by the government for the exercise.

FIGHT CORRUPTION

“We are half-hearted in the fight against corruption. We have laws, in fact many of them, but we ensure that any provision that would directly hit at us is removed from the laws so that what we are left with is hollow,” he added. Besides the law that gives those to be subjected to a lifestyle audit a chance to object and delay the exercise, EACC also says the issue of resources is of major concern.

“Lifestyle audit is broader and wealth declaration forms are foundational to the audit. Even before we apply to get the wealth declaration forms, we have to independently and physically investigate.

Only after that can we call for the declaration forms and compare the contents with our findings,” he said.

“The exercise is laborious and requires resources. If the government makes it a special project then resources have to be provided including additional investigators,” the commission CEO said, adding that it cannot be political or malicious.

PUBLIC SERVICE

Past and ongoing attempts at ridding the public service of those unsuitable to serve have been beset by myriad problems even when the exercise being undertaken has not been as comprehensive and rigorous as the lifestyle audit.

For instance, the vetting of police officers, which started in 2013, is still ongoing with no indication of when it will be concluded.

Meanwhile, vetting of the pre-2010 judges and magistrates, which started in 2011, was only concluded in 2016.

~ Nation Media Group 

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