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Corruption Fight is Top Priority, Kenyan President Says

Kenya's president said Friday he and his government place top priority on the fight against corruption, following harsh criticism from donors and Kenyans who say the government has failed to effectively take action.

For the first time since the Kenyan government came under fire almost two weeks ago for its alleged failure and lack of will to curb government corruption, President Mwai Kibaki defended himself and his administration.

He told those gathered for the opening of an exhibition in Nairobi that eradicating corruption is his top priority.

"There should be no doubt in anybody's mind about our commitment to winning the fight against corruption,” he said. “We recognize that this fight is vital for the performance of the economy and improvement of the welfare of Kenyans. It is, therefore, a war we are determined to win. Indeed, let me emphasize that this fight will remain at the top of my government's) agenda."

On Thursday, President Kibaki ordered officials to hand over to the Kenya Anti-Corruption Committee an audit of a canceled security project for examination and possible criminal action. The audit was conducted last year, after legislators said the project was awarded to a French company without competitive bidding.

The president also set up an oversight, inter-ministerial committee to examine security projects, and said the Public Procurement Bill has been amended to allow for more scrutiny in the procurement of security projects.

Mr. Kibaki's renewed pledge to fight corruption follows sharp criticism from foreign governments and the resignation of Kenya's permanent secretary of governance and ethics, John Githongo. Associates said he was continually blocked in his efforts to expose and resolve corrupt deals.

Reacting to the resignation, U.S. Ambassador William Bellamy announced that the United Sates would suspend $2.5 million of funding earmarked for government programs to fight corruption.

Eight countries including the United Sates and Canada signed a statement saying Mr. Githongo's resignation poses what they called an extremely serious challenge to the credibility of the government's anti-corruption policy. And the European Union urged the government to be serious about implementing its anti-corruption measures.