Lifestyle audits return to haunt public servants

Monday, October 18th, 2021 07:00 |
Senator James Orengo. Photo/PD/FILE

Senators have backed a bill that seeks to make mandatory lifestyle audits of top public and State officers including the President and his Deputy.

The bill, in the Second Reading and  lined up for debate tomorrow, if passed, will also ensure public officers account for their wealth by making it public.

Lawmakers argue that the Lifestyle Audit Bill (Senate Bills No. 36 of 2021) will also unearth public officials who live beyond their means by using public resources to enrich themselves.

The debate comes at a time Kenyans are waiting for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address on public servants who have stashed wealth in offshore accounts.

While responding to the revelations of the hidden wealth of billionaires and heads of governments in a report published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists(ICIJ), the President said the Pandora Papers would usher in a new age of financial transparency and openness in Kenya and globally.

Documents in the Pandora Papers name members of President Kenyatta family among dozen world leaders as secretly owning a network of offshore companies.

“The movement of illicit funds, proceeds of crime and corruption thrive in an environment of secrecy and darkness,” said Uhuru on October 5, 2021 in a statement adding that Pandora Papers and subsequent follow-up audits will lift that veil of secrecy and darkness for those who cannot explain their assets or wealth.”

The President did not address the reports’ claims on the Kenyatta family wealth, only saying he would “respond comprehensively” on returning from a State visit to the Americas.

Uhuru returned to the country on Friday but he is yet to address the nation on the issue.

Contributing to the bill on Thursday, Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’ termed it timely and necessary in helping the country to audit its state and public officers and see what they have been up to during their tenure.

He said recent stories of Pandora Papers that exposed the wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires have sent the wrong message.

“I hope the President will give the nation an account when he comes back from the US, as he had promised.

The President said that the Pandora Papers will lift the lid on those who have ill-gotten wealth and those who have stashed proceeds of crime, money laundering, ivory trade and all sorts of things,” he said.

Strengthen institutions 

Kajwang reiterated that the President has to slay the dragon of corruption that is perpetrated by those who have had the privilege of serving the nation in public offices.

“If he does not do so, then the next President will have one hell of a hard time,” he said.

According to him, initiatives like the Lifestyle Audit Bill should help the country tame corruption.

Endorsing the bill, Senate Leader of Majority Samuel Poghisio said the bill comes to strengthen the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) in tackling corruption and other related economic crimes.

“We have laws such as the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, the Public Officer Ethics Act, Leadership and Integrity Act and the Public Service (Values and Principles) Act, which are all meant to do the same thing.

We have many other laws. We are adding another Bill because we know where we have not covered as a nation,” Poghisio said as he rallied his colleagues to pass the bill.

“Lifestyle audit has been talked about in public and it has been ordered in some public institutions, but nothing seems to change,” he added.

On June 14, 2018, President Uhuru ordered lifestyle audits of all senior procurement and finance officials.

Later, he ordered the same for Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials. Little is known about these audits or their outcomes.

“I wish to inform the people who head EACC that we pass these laws to encourage and to strengthen what they already have.

They have enough powers to act on lifestyle audits without being prompted,” Poghisio, who is also the West Pokot Senator, held.

Although our constitution is one of the progressive globally, the senator observed that it does seem to attempt to talk about lifestyle audit.

He hailed the bill for proposing for a lifestyle audit to be carried out on an immediate family member of a public officer.

“If it is established that property which is subject of a lifestyle audit is owned by the immediate family member or joint ownerships, then action must be taken,” he said.

The Bill, sponsored by Nominated Senator Farhiya Ali, seeks to put into place a legal framework for undertaking lifestyle audits.

It also seeks to give EACC mandate  to refer a matter to the DPP, where as a result of the lifestyle audit, the Commission is of the view that criminal proceedings should be instituted against the public officer.

The Bill further allows a person, who is subject to the lifestyle audit, to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DPP.

“Let the people who have obtained monies corruptly feel the heat and know that there is a law that is going after them,” Poghisio asserted.

Backing the bill, Senate Leader of Minority Senator James Orengo said the war against corrupt public officers is not going to be successful until we have institutions of integrity and leadership.

According to Orengo, there are already so many laws in the country to deal with not only corruption but also the question of public officers having unexplained assets, but there lacks political goodwill.

“The Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act has very substantive provisions not only for dealing with somebody who has committed an offence but also against public officers or for that matter individuals who may be in possession of unexplained assets. There is a proper procedure that is laid out,” said Orengo.

Invasion of privacy

According to the Siaya Senator, the proposed law is not good for lifestyle audit as it only protects the Constitution.

“You need a strong and independent institution as a starting point otherwise, a law like this may give the political class weapons to use against adversaries or to use against less powerful individuals.

Let us not give the law enforcement agencies opportunities to invade the privacy of people’s homes without a warrant.

If it is a genuine lifestyle audit, there should not be a warrantless search,” he added. 

According to him, the lifestyle audit gives you a choice that if you are a public officer, you have to make that choice.

“You have to live in accordance with Chapter Six of the Constitution and all the wealth that you acquire must be explained to give the public confidence that they have leaders who are looking after public affairs and public assets and not messing around.” 

Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula noted that  the bill seeks to enhance existing efforts, legal structures and institutions to enhance accountability.

“If you look at our country today, I dare say that  more than 70 per cent of rich people in this country have worked for or are working in Government.

None of them can explain their wealth as being a source of their income for working with the Government,” said Senator Wetang’ula.

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