Kenyan authorities detain 50 in anti-corruption drive

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenyan authorities have detained more than 50 top officials and executives after widespread public anger prompted by allegations of the theft of more than $100m (£75m) at government agencies.

After more than a week of front-page stories in Kenyan newspapers and a flood of hashtags on Twitter, the prosecutor’s office announced on Monday (28 May 2018) that prosecution would begin of all the suspects named in a file prepared by the police’s criminal investigations department.

The suspects include the head of an agency, dozens of senior officials and four members of the same family, involved in business.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who pledged to stamp out graft when he was first elected in 2013, moved swiftly to deflect public resentment. “We are not going to tolerate unethical people. People with responsibility must be ready to serve and not to be served,” he said on Monday.

Critics say Kenyatta, who won a second term in a controversial rerun election last year, has been slow to pursue top officials. There have been no high-profile convictions since he took office.

The scandal centres on the National Youth Service (NYS), a paramilitary institution that trains young people and deploys them to projects ranging from construction to traffic control. It has been at the forefront of Kenyatta’s plan to combat high youth unemployment.

The director of public prosecutions has said he is investigating pending invoices totalling at least 8bn Kenyan shillings (£59m). Many appear to have been inflated. Kenyan media have reported that the NYS paid $10m for beef in one year – meaning each recruit would have had to consume 66kg of beef a day. In another example a car tyre was purchased for $1m.

According to the prosecutor’s office, charges will include abuse of office, stealing public funds and forgery, among others.

Corruption scandals have in recent days hit electricity supplier Kenya Power where families and friends of employees were found in an audit to have bagged multimillion-dollar contracts.

Fraudulent payments of $30m have also been uncovered at the National Cereals and Produce Board.

In 2017 Kenya fell to 143rd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s annual corruption index.

In March, a damning report from the auditor general showed the government could not account for $400m in public funds.

The current scandal follows one three years ago at the NYS. Earlier this year, there was anger when a court acquitted nearly two dozen officials at the agency after a trial over the alleged theft of 48m shillings in 2015.

In 2016, the then head of Kenya’s anti-graft agency said Kenya was losing a third of its state budget the equivalent of about £4.5bn to corruption every year.

While the finance ministry disputed the losses were that large and instead blamed poor paperwork, Kenyatta acknowledged that corruption had reached levels that threatened national security.