November 07, 2013
Following up on his promise to fight corruption and take measures to remove dirty officials from power, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has launched a new website for citizens to report corruption incidents directly to his office.
While the president's decision to involve himself directly in the issue is largely seen as a positive step for Kenya -- which has had a poor reputation in terms of corruption for years -- some citizens are still not convinced that reporting graft will lead to action against the vice.
Visitors to the website can submit videos, photos, audio recordings and other documents to support their allegations.
To encourage citizens to report corruption, the website allows users to remain anonymous, according to an October 30th news release from Kenyatta's office. People can also lodge grievances via social media, or by sending a text message to 33000.
The website's launch comes less than a month after Kenya's Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) arrested five former National Housing Corporation (NHC) officials on corruption charges, and after the commission began probing the judiciary for suspected corruption.
Ochieng Khairalla, executive director of the Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Culture, praised the president's move to involve himself directly in the issue, saying it could rejuvenate the country's war on corruption.
"The fight against the vice has for years yearned for a head of state to take a frontline [position against it]. President Kenyatta has obliged. Corrupt officials and citizens have a reason to be very worried," he told Sabahi.
As bold as it is, Kenyatta's move nonetheless could provoke a political backlash, Khairalla cautioned.
"Corruption has a way of fighting back fiercely. Those accused of corruption may try to politicise the war, but the president needs the goodwill of all Kenyans to win the fight," he said.
The president will need to act on legitimate complaints that he receives in order to send a strong message that he is serious about not condoning corruption, Khairalla said.
Although he welcomed Kenyatta's new initiative, anti-corruption activist and photojournalist Boniface Mwangi said it could indicate that the president has lost faith in the EACC's ability to do its job effectively.
"We have an anti-corruption agency [the EACC] that is bestowed with the fight against [corruption], but it appears that it is overwhelmed," Mwangi said.
"Ultimately, the buck stops with the president and he does not want to shoulder the failures of those institutions," Mwangi told Sabahi.
Meanwhile, on Thursday (November 7th) the president's office said via Twitter it was handing over the corruption reports obtained through the government's site to the EACC.
As of Monday (November 4th), Kenyatta's anti-corruption website had received 2,000 complaints, said Dennis Itumbi, director of digital, new media and diaspora affairs in the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit.
According to Itumbi, the president's initiative will complement other programmes engaged in tackling corruption nationwide, including the work of individual anti-corruption activists such as Antony Ragui, the founder of "I Paid a Bribe" website, which has been tracking corruption in Kenya since November 2011.
Itumbi said the government plans to request reports collected by Ragui's website in order to investigate those cases.
"The president will forward some of the reported cases to the existing institutions, and he will personally follow up on the ongoing investigations and actions," Itumbi told Sabahi. "The president is only taking the lead in a joint war in which he has brought the entire country on board through social media."
On his part, Ragui told Sabahi that as of Thursday he had not yet received a call from government officials.
"If the president was to call me, I would suggest to him that we consolidate the two websites to [become] one formidable website to fight graft," he said.
"I have solid reports on corruption in all sectors which I am ready to avail to the president for action. Together we can consolidate our effort and the president should be the lead person in the war", he added.
Yet the reaction among Kenyans to the presidential initiative was mixed.
Kenya has a reputation for deep-seated public corruption, ranking 139 out of 176 on Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, with the number-one ranked country representing the one citizens view as least-corrupt.
Dan Wanga, a 34-year-old resident of Eldoret, was among those who reacted positively to the initiative. Corruption and insecurity should be fought at all costs because they hamper development, he said.
"It is good the president is taking the lead in the fight against corruption. The website will create silent whistle-blowers and help reduce corruption because many government officials will know that they can be reported directly," Wanga told Sabahi.
Garissa resident Mohammed Indakwa, an electrician by trade, said he would be more likely to report corruption directly to the president's website.
"There is a chance for the president to act on my report unlike other independent websites. This is because the president can issue an order for investigation," said the 38-year-old.
Sharon Atieno, 25, a third-year communication student at Daystar University, was more sceptical.
"The website comes at a time when there are laws towards gagging the media," Atieno said. Because the Kenyan press has been at the forefront of exposing corruption, she expressed doubt that a government "keen on muzzling the press" would be serious about solving the problem.
In addition, the president should first act on corruption cases that have already been publicised before inviting complaints about new cases, she said.
"We already have the Anglo-Leasing and Goldenberg scandals, in which the country lost billions of shillings in shoddy deals. To deal with those massive corruptions will be a good start and a pointer that he is serious," Atieno said.
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