An Italian construction company CMC di Ravenna has gotten itself in trouble in Kenya after it emerged that it won a government tender for the construction of two dams at an inflated cost of US$608 million from the original cost of about US$410 million. Close to 26 people, among them company directors, government officials and the country’s Minister of Finance Henry Rotich, have been implicated in the scandal.
When Rotich appeared in the Kenyan court last week, he pleaded not guilty to any involvement in corruption, leaving the State in full gear to start its prosecution on August 8, 2019. At this stage, the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta cannot tell whether or not his minister is indeed corrupt or has been framed by his enemies. Only the court process will confirm his involvement, but for now he is presumed innocent.
We would like to draw our readers’ attention towards the tough decision that President Kenyatta had to make against his beloved minister. We are saying “beloved” because it cannot be disputed that the Ministry of Finance is the most sensitive ministry in Cabinet and appointments to that post often come from the President’s heart. It has to be someone whom the Head of State absolutely trusts and considers as totally loyal to him.
The moment Rotich was formally charged and taken to court, President Kenyatta threw away all that personal attachment towards the accused and suspended him from Cabinet before appointing someone else to act in the position, pending trial. The Head of State had to make this tough decision against his close friend who had been overlooking the country’s economy since 2013 when he was appointed.
This action by President Kenyatta was to some extend embarrassing to Rotich because it carried a connotation that the appointing authority had more confidence in the charges slapped on the minister than he had trust in the minister himself. But that did not matter to President Kenyatta, he did that in the interest of allowing the course of justice to flow without interference. He decided to show political will in the fight against corruption and to send a strong message that no one is sacred and no one will be protected by the Executive.
This is a stark contrast to the approach taken by his drinking mate President Edgar Lungu. In the Zambian case, when investigative wings arrested and charged Ronald Chitotela, our Head of State made a very strong statement that went to protect the accused minister. President Lungu explicitly said he was not going to suspend the then Minister of Infrastructure Development because he was his close friend. He further challenged those accusing the minister of being corrupt to take evidence to him at State House, not to court. How senseless is that?
After President Lungu made those remarks, it was clear how the minister’s case was going to end. Only a gullible fool expected that there was any possibility that Chitotela would be found guilty. What President Lungu didn’t understand was that making such public sentiments were injurious to the judiciary because even if Chitotela was innocent as some magistrate would like us to believe, no one can trust that decision to be independent.
We are at a stage where Chitotela is still in court facing 8-9 more corruption related charges, but the public has lost interest in the matter because they are already convinced about how all those cases will be dropped in order to protect the President. Both the court and the prosecution know that convicting Chitotela would be such an embarrassment to the President who publicly expressed belief in the minister’s innocence than in the charges slapped on the accused minister.
A President who is committed to the fight against corruption acts like Kenyatta and not Lungu. Like TIZ executive director Wesley Chibamba stated in his observation, people need to be given the reassurance that there is actually political will when it comes to the fight against corruption. You cannot leave a minister in office while his corruption trial is taking place. How do you expect witnesses from the ministry to testify against a man who still has power to fire them?
It was almost a mockery to see President Lungu transfer Chitotela to another ministry after he has secured his court acquittal. What is the point in appointing another minister in charge of Infrastructure Development after the court has already been coerced into endorsing your position that your beloved minister is innocent?
If President Lungu had suspended Chitotela to pave way for justice, like President Kenyatta has done against his Finance Minister, people would have believed more in the court outcome.
Now, Kenya is not in Europe or America where we can say it’s difficult to emulate Kenyatta because of the variance in the politics surrounding governance. This is happening in Africa, and by a President who is so close to our own Head of State. So we wonder how these two drinking mates who spend so much time together can have such distinctive approaches towards the fight against corruption.
We implore President Lungu to learn from his drinking buddy. And since the two appointing authorities were hanging out together at the EAZ economic summit in Livingstone last weekend, we can only hope that one picked some inspiration even over a drink. We hope they were not just challenging each other on how much Jameson one can swallow, but challenging each other’s governance decisions.