Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why resignation craze will not end corruption

Sunday Nation 21 February 2010

Last week, on Valentine’s Day, the Prime Minister made an announcement that may yet mark the beginning of the end for the shotgun marriage we have known as the Grand Coalition Government for the past two years.

He purported to suspend, pending investigations, the ministers for Education and Agriculture for allegedly being mentioned in corrupt deals in their respective ministries.

A few hours later, President Kibaki’s State House nullified the suspensions due to what it termed “lack of consultations and concurrence”.

This tiff between the so-called principals has raised a furore that threatens to, once again, consume the entire minuscule imagination and memory of our nation, derailing important issues like the constitution review process and the other processes geared towards truth, justice and reconciliation.

The Attorney-General has argued that both the spirit and the letter of the National Accord compels the principals to consult and concur before making any major decisions, a term whose meaning he argues includes appointment, sacking, suspension and all related activities.

The PM’s advisers and supporters hold a radically different view asserting that according to the constitution, suspension is an exclusive function of his supervisory and coordination role in government.

The way this grand coalition government has been carrying itself, it is not far from the truth to assert that politics is playing a greater role in this hullabaloo than anything to do with fighting corruption.

Since its formation, it has consistently behaved like a two-headed snake, with the two heads constantly at war with each other.

Each side has been eager to expose the shortcomings of the other in the hope of finding favour with the myopic voter who is easily swayed by the prevailing political mood.

The current disagreement finally brings to the fore the doctrine of political responsibility as espoused by Kenyan scholars, politicians and civil society activists.

According to this doctrine, whenever a scandal is unearthed in one’s ministry, the permanent secretary, as the chief accounting officer of the ministry, must be held responsible and must resign pending investigations.

Taken a step further, this doctrine also asserts that the minister must take responsibility for the failings of civil servants in his ministry, and should also step aside until investigations are complete to determine the level of his/her involvement.

Often, the pace at which the investigative and judicial arms of government move means that such a resignation is in fact terminal, and there is little hope of the individuals ever reclaiming their former posts even if they are subsequently cleared by a competent authority.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this doctrine could be used to argue that as the supervisor and coordinator of government functions, including ministries, the man who holds the ultimate political responsibility is the Prime Minister, and he must also step aside and face investigations just like the ministers.

The fact that his office has been implicated in some of the corrupt dealings only serves to enhance this view among his opponents.

To illustrate just how ridiculous this reasoning can get, political responsibility as practised in Kenya would probably require the President himself, as the appointing authority and head of the Cabinet, to step aside and face investigations whenever a monumental scam is exposed in any government ministry or department.

Analysing most of the instances where there has been a clamour for a minister to take political responsibility and resign, it becomes clear that political motives and long-standing resentments have played a major role in determining the pitch and persistence of the resignation calls.

The targeted ministers have consistently pointed at their political opponents as the architects of these calls, while most of those clamouring for resignations have often had a bone to pick with the concerned individuals.

Evidently, then, the line between the criminals and the innocent has progressively become blurred, and the proverbial buck now stops at an arbitrary point determined by the interests and political inclinations of the accusers.

It is my contention that this clamour for political responsibility has been pushed too far.

In my opinion, as long as a minister has not been named in the scam, and there is evidence that he acted promptly and transparently to deal with the perpetrators when he became aware of it, he should not be forced to step aside just because he was in charge when it happened.

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine

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