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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 February 2005, 14:36 GMT
UK envoy's speech on Kenyan corruption
Anti bribes poster
Sir Edward made headlines last year when he lambasted the government

Extracts from a speech made by UK High Commissioner to Kenya Sir Edward Clay at Kenya's Annual Journalists of the Year Awards Dinner on 2 February 2005.

I want to speak tonight about investigative journalism and corruption: What they have in common is a link to good governance.

A free press is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of a free society: A free press is not necessarily a good press, all the time. But an unfree press is never a good press: It is incompatible with a properly functioning democratic society. Corruption is the biggest single impediment to good governance in Kenya. And corruption is a challenge and a test for the investigative journalist.

Corruption of one kind and another is so commonplace that the media can only afford to focus on the most flagrant cases. Recent events and almost daily news stories reveal new and emerging scams involving most forms of corruption: Abuse of office, conflict of interest, patronage, favouritism, clientism, grand and petty corruption, and, above all, questionable procurements. The media are, however, short on substantive answers to the questions posed by revelations about earlier government deals.

There has been a change in the tone of government statements since six months ago: No-one speaks now as they spoke then; there is no outright denial any more. There is lots of whitewash covering those displeasing shoes, but no denial that underneath, right enough, it's still there, that unpleasing substance. Not just on the shoes of the donors, incidentally, but also all over the shoes of Kenyans... and the feet of those who can't afford shoes...

'Massive looting'

What has seemed to drop out of sight in the corruption debate is a full-scale examination of where responsibility lies in specific cases; and what ministerial responsibility means. At least one member of government has used in defence the argument that the wrongdoing was done by their civil servants, old lags from the previous regime.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki
Kibaki based his 2002 election on the fight against corruption

Others ask why the top person can be held responsible for malfeasance low down the chain of command - if a messenger takes a little something, is the minister to answer for it? We are all supposed to laugh at that illustration of how absurd it is that a minister should answer for every minor irregularity, and we should be too embarrassed, presumably, to press the question any further. That trivialises the issue.

We are not talking about minor corruption. We are talking about massive looting and/or grand corruption which in toto has a huge impact on Kenya's economy.


Somewhere between the kitu kidogo [small bribe] and the conclusion of a contract worth millions of dollars through bent procedures to acquire for the government something it doesn't need, hasn't provided for, and at a fictitious price, is a level at which the searchlight of investigation should turn on those in charge. And the question of whether they should take personal responsibility has to be asked, and answered. The issue is, whether there was negligence or complicity.

We foreigners should not have to spend time doing what it is the duty of others to do
And the first layer of whitewash, now being touted by people who should know better, is that since the money from patently dishonest deals has been returned, there is no need of investigation. Or since a dubious tender has been cancelled, there is no need of further enquiry about why it was improper.

Who ought to ask questions about corruption? Most ministers say 'not diplomats'. Quite right. We foreigners should not have to spend time doing what it is the duty of others to do, and which it is clear Kenyans want them to do. It falls to you to demonstrate to your readers that here is an issue that needs further enquiry by the proper authorities; and to explain why it is important...

MPs failure

The historical experience of all parliaments is that the best handhold on the throat of government is through its scrutiny of its financial management. No-one took MEPs very seriously until they established a right to scrutinise the European Commission's finances.

I did not expect the Democratic Republic of Congo to teach Kenya lessons in parliamentary control of the Executive

It looks as though Kenya's parliament may have missed a chance to do so in respect of the biggest, most visible and well-documented scandal since Goldenberg. My point is that parliament is not playing its role as well as the media is playing its part. The parliamentarians' failure in this case weakens a crucial means of restraining and checking the use of executive power, given in the present and in the draft constitutions, quite rightly, to the people's elected representatives and its powerful PAC.

I did not expect the Democratic Republic of Congo to teach Kenya lessons in parliamentary control of the executive. Yet President Kabila recently suspended six ministers and the boards of ten para-statals following accusations of embezzlement levelled against them in a parliamentary report...

Many stones unturned

As you would expect, the United Kingdom is ready and willing to help the Kenyan authorities investigate corruption. There have already been several useful episodes of co-operation between our people and the anti-corruption authorities here. And I have recently passed to the appropriate authorities details of 20 deals or procurements, which, I believe, merit the following treatment:

Edward Clay
Edward Clay says he underestimated the corruption

i) Full and transparent investigation of a kind accessible and comprehensible in its entirety to every Kenyan taxpayer and citizen;
ii) Resolution, whereby those against whom sufficient evidence of corrupt practice exists are, as appropriate, dismissed and prosecuted;
iii) Repair - whereby action is taken to ensure that such opportunities are blocked in future.

There are lots of things about corruption which weaken a state. It distorts the policy process; things are bought not because they are needed or even the best buy, but offer the best rake-off. From looting through grand corruption to petty corruption, the whole system makes the citizen's life intolerable.

With it goes favouritism, nepotism, ethnic or regional preferences, and a wholesale denial of services. Also, a system of dissuasion, intimidation and repression which is contrary to good governance and impedes your legitimate enquiries and the public's legitimate interest. Either way, my current list now adds up to a lot more than the 15 billion Kenyan shillings ($194m) I mentioned in July. That sum alone could have covered twice over the government's budget deficit. Or perhaps enabled it to cope with its citizens' need for famine relief. Or build 15,000 classrooms, meeting half the Ministry of Education's requirement.

At the lower end of the scale of opportunity costs, just Shs 2 billion would buy 10 million double size treated bednets: Their availability would save 130,000 child lives lost to malaria.

Four of the deals on the list I have given to your authorities are larger than the infamous passports' scam run by Anglo Leasing, which caused such a stink. So they must surely rate a commensurately bigger furore in demanding explanations.


It is by now clear that the people behind these scams are very clever. Proper investigation and resolution of the issues involved in each will be a very complex process. It will be hampered if the top people in those departments are in the way. There is no call to make a legal judgement that anyone is guilty; it is sufficient to reach a political judgement on whether the public interest requires them to stand aside and let the investigators get on without their being in the way.

People outside Kenya... manipulate people inside Kenya... with an ease and confidence which is frightening

If the herdsman hears a commotion among his animals and finds a leopard has entered the boma [homestead], he will first eject the leopard before seeing what damage it has done. He cannot be expected to look over the fence from outside to assess the guilt or innocence of the leopard! Nor can he hope to assess the damage while the leopard is still there.

There is another noteworthy point. The names of certain international businessmen recur. What is interesting is the role of Kenyan people who are neither elected nor officials of government in the questionable negotiations of these significant transactions on behalf of government.

Ask your newsvendor or the shoe-shiner if you want a highly informed list of who they are. And there is the role of people outside Kenya, who manipulate people inside Kenya, near to or actually in the government, with an ease and confidence which is frightening. They believe that, whatever electors may do, there will always be people in a new government who can be manipulated...

Scale underestimated

I got some criticism for the language I used back in July last year. Looking back, I regret three things: Not speaking out much earlier than July; underestimating the scale of the looting afoot; and the moderation of the language I used then: That was clearly inexcusably polite in relation to what we see going on. Even more so in light of what we discern, but do not see fully... Yet.

He's a menace to the donors, he's the taxpayers' despair: For the treasury is empty... but Macavity's not there
I have been encouraged by more recent and very firm re-statements of the government's commitment to the war on corruption. That's why I return to the subject tonight: I am a supporter of their war strategy, and want to cheer their declared will to win. And I believe you have an interest in this war, too, reflecting the interests of the public.

Here's a slightly adapted and shortened poem of TS Eliot, about a cat (not a leopard) who always gets away from the law. Eliot liked cats and wrote about all sorts of cat-characters. His long poem about cats inspired the famous musical "Cats".

This one, called Macavity, is a really bad cat. He's also very clever. When he does something bad and people get after him, he always manages to escape. I hope this adaptation may amuse for a moment the hard-working investigators who are trying to find the footprints of the Macavitys in Kenya, and encourage them to keep looking.

Bad cat

'Macavity's a mystery cat, he's called the hidden paw -
For he's the great facilitator, far above the law.
He's a menace to the donors, he's the taxpayers' despair:
For the treasury is empty... but Macavity's not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
He flourishes in cyberspace, he stalks through zero gravity.
He'll be on a yacht off Cyprus when they find the cupboard's bare,
For the treasury is empty... but Macavity's not there:
Don't ask for him in government - you'll get an icy stare
And they'll tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there.

He likes to be in transit and he's partial to hotels,
He has a place in Manchester, he's fond of the Seychelles.
So when the nation's revenue's in European banks,
Or you need a team of tractors but acquire a troop of tanks
Or the nation's full of caviar, but hasn't any bread,
Or you want a road for Christmas, but a frigate comes instead
Or you're buying a police car and you're paying through your teeth
For a chicken house that's blue and white and rotten underneath:
You can look behind the scenery or stare up in the air
But the ministers will tell you that Macavity's not there.

His manipulative skills would make a physio despair,
For the Treasury is empty... but Macavity's not there!'

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17 Jul 04 |  Africa
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