Proposed lifestyle audit law to bolster war on corruption

Monday, October 14th, 2019 07:34 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta. Photo/File

The war against corruption is likely to get a major boost with the publication of a new bill that will see public officers who fail to account for their wealth forfeit it to the State.

The Lifestyle Audit Bill 2019, which is awaiting Parliament’s nod, seeks to amend Section 30 of the Public Officers Ethics Act to make the declaration of income, assets and liabilities open to public scrutiny. It proposes that all State officers undergo a lifestyle audit. 

It also seeks to have a coordinated approach by investigative State agencies such as the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) when conducting a lifestyle audit on any targeted public officer. 

According to the bill, which is sponsored by Nominated Senator Farhiya Ali Haji, those who fail to declare their wealth will face two years in jail,  or a fine of not less that Sh5 million, or both. 

Haji, who last evening declined to comment on what the proposed law portends for the ongoing fight against corruption, however, said the bill seeks to provide a legal framework on how the audits will be conducted to expose public or state officers suspected to be living beyond their lawfully obtained and reported income.  

“The bill, therefore, seeks to provide a framework for the lifestyle audit process, standards of professional conduct when carrying out lifestyle audit, bodies to be involved in lifestyle audit, unexplained wealth,” the bill reads in its memorandum of objects and reasons. 

Uhuru’s declaration

In June last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that all State officers and their families would undergo a lifestyle audit. The directive has, however, not been implemented for lack of a legal framework.

The President had declared that he and his deputy William Ruto would undergo the audit. The Head of State threatened to act on Cabinet Secretaries and governors found guilty of corruption, declaring that the war against theft of public resources was “unstoppable”.

“We are aware some of these corrupt individuals have registered their wealth, including cars and houses, in the names of their spouses and children. We will go after them also,” said Uhuru in Mombasa.

The President said the source of wealth for the families of all senior government would be investigated.

And now the Haji Bill, which seeks to put into action Uhuru’s declaration, proposes that officers undergoing the mandatory audit provide their names, birth information, marital status, addresses, employment information, names of spouse or spouses, names of dependents, financial statements, income including, but not limited to salary and emoluments and income from investments. 

They will also have to declare information on assets — land, buildings, vehicles, investments and financial obligations, liabilities and legal entities — that the public or State officer or members of their family are the owners or beneficial owners. 

The bill proposes that the audit may also be undertaken where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that any targeted officer could be living beyond their means.

Others who may be subjected to the audit are officials unable to account for the source of income or have misappropriated funds under their care and trust.

Perfect antidote

According to Haji, the bill seeks to incorporate the values and principles of governance under Article 10 of the Constitution into the government officers’ public work.

Currently, there is no legal framework on how lifestyle audit would be carried out and if the bill sails through, it could just serve as a perfect antidote to those living beyond their  known means.

Many experts have expressed reservations that current wealth declarations are mere public relations exercises because they are confidential and lack an accountability mechanism.

But the proposed bill will remove the privacy veil and ensure traceability. It also has a punitive clause to deter false declarations. The bill, which empowers KRA, EACC and the responsible commission under the Public Officer Ethics Act, will be a critical tool in the fight against corruption. 

“A person commits an offence if, during a lifestyle audit exercise, the person makes a statement that the person knows to be false or misleading,” the bill reads. 

The court may make an interim freezing order in respect of a property in question during a lifestyle audit, if the court considers it necessary.

But to place safeguards against abuse, the bill also says the exercise must be carried out with respect, professionalism, objectivity, proper planning, confidentiality and within the law. For instance, it indicates all investigative agencies will work jointly to ensure proper coordination. 

An investigating body may apply for a search warrant against a public or a state officer from a court of law. 

The investigating body shall, where grounds exist for the conduct of a lifestyle audit, inform the officer of the requirement to carry out the audit, submit to the officer, information regarding the intended audit and the reasons for the audit and accord the officer the right to be heard. 

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