That’s why I’m posting this here, because the Nation wouldn’t publish it back in November for some reason (and because I’m a bit swamped right now and can’t do the still elusive “real” post).
First read this op-ed(from someone who should really know better, I think). [EDIT: link has been fixed and the author is a former Nation editor in chief and UN PR rep).
Here’s my response, which apparently didn’t meet the editor’s muster…
To equate the campaign being conducted by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) against misuse of public resources by government officials to “stalking a mandazi thief” as Peter Mwaura recently did (Daily Nation, November 12, 2005) suggests, at best, a facile understanding of the National Commission’s work and approach and downplays the serious implications of government misuse of public resources. Perhaps the Commission’s approach would have been more comprehensible had Mr. Mwaura attempted to first contact the Commission and clarify what the campaign is all about, rather imply that the Commissioners “are busybodies who have nothing better to do.”
There are several things that Mr. Mwaura got wrong in his critique of the Commission’s campaign. First, in pursuing its campaign against government misuse of public resources, the Commission is indeed sticking to “its core mandate of furthering the protection and promotion of human rights….” Under the International Convention of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), our government is committed to taking steps to achieve the realization of social, cultural and economic rights using the maximum resources available to it. The diversion of public funds from their intended use is not just a violation of the law; it affects the government’s ability to deliver on services and in essence inhibits the realization of human rights – particularly social and economic rights such as the right to education, and the right to housing. Moreover, the Kenyan government is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees all persons equality before the law and the equal protection of the law. For far too long, our public officials have been unaccountable for their criminal misdeeds while in office, suggesting that there is a dual system of justice – one for ordinary mwananchi and one for those who are in public office – the KNCHR is committed to ensuring that all persons are treated equally before the law.
Second, the Commission is interested in both obtaining results and making a point. Kenya has long been bedeviled by unethical politicians whose “political crimes” have remained beyond reproach. The campaign against misuse of public resources signals a call for a new culture of accountability and ethics among Kenyan politicians. By suggesting that the misuse of government vehicles by our politicians is “petty corruption” or a “relatively minor infraction,” Mr. Mwaura perpetuates exactly the status quo that most Kenyans have expressed a desire to end – the continued willingness to let our politicians get away with all sorts of crimes and misdeeds. The fact that there is nothing “petty” about misusing using government cars for non-official use should be self-evident. However, for those who are unclear about this, some clarification may be in order.
As Mr. Mwaura himself notes, Section 15 the Public Officer Ethics Act, which was enacted specifically to stem the abuse of public office and as part of the government’s “total war on corruption,” forbids the use of public resources for private purposes by all public officials. Furthermore, the improper use of government vehicles was expressly forbidden in a circular issued on 18th December 2003, by the Head of the Civil Service, Francis Muthaura. According to the circular, “government transport facilities, including those of State Corporations and Local Authorities are for official use only.”
Third, the KNCHR is carrying out a targeted campaign and is not pursuing “all wrongs, real or imagined, everywhere” – the campaign is focused specifically on government cars that are being used for non-official purposes. Contrary to Mr. Mwaura’s accusations, the Commission is engaging in solutions that are proportional to the problem. These are not cases where personal benefit is being derived from official use, or where the personal use is “incidental” to official use unless Mr. Mwaura adheres to a previously unheard of definition of “incidental.” There is nothing incidental about a government Minister arriving at a campaign rally in his or her official car, since campaigning for or against the referendum is not government business (as the Vice-President himself recently reminded us). If a public official wishes to campaign, they should use their personal or party resources and not taxpayers’ money.
Finally, it is important to reemphasize that the Commission’s effort towards increasing accountability in our political leaders is part of a concerted effort to end the prevailing culture of impunity in Kenya that has resulted in the violation of various human rights. Politicians who do not operate in a transparent or accountable manner are unlikely to respect the human rights of the citizens once in power – you cannot have one without the other. Moreover, no one has a monopoly on ensuring that the government is transparent and accountable to its people; the fact that the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (KACA) exists does nothing to undermine the work that the KNCHR is doing and vice versa. By inculcating a respect for the rule of law and for accountability in government, and by involving the Kenyan public in our campaign through the setting up of hotlines, we are emphasizing two important pillars that ensure the protection and protecting human rights.
It is interesting, if not disappointing, to note that the very politicians who spent years vilifying the past regime for abuse of public office are now scampering to justify or excuse their illegal behavior; if they feel that they have not broken the law, let them defend themselves in court like the average accused Kenyan does. This kind of “petty corruption” that Mr. Mwaura refers to is precisely the kind of behavior that leads to “grand corruption” – maybe Mr. Mwaura should let us know where exactly we should draw the line. If working to ensure that taxpayers’ funds are put to proper use amounts to being “busybodies,” then I encourage Kenyans to help us keep busy.