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Analysts Say Kenya's President, Parliament Undermine Anti-Corruption Campaign

Analysts say a decision by Kenyan lawmakers this week to limit the powers of the country's anti-corruption commission was the latest sign that President Mwai Kibaki's much-heralded drive to root out graft has faltered. But Mr. Kibaki's government insists it is still engaged in the fight against corruption. From VOA's Nairobi bureau, Nick Wadhams reports.

President Kibaki's pledge to stamp out corruption was seen as a key reason for his landslide victory in the 2002 election. Yet, five years later, actions by the Kenyan parliament and the Kibaki government, indicate priorities may have changed.

On Thursday, Kenya's parliament passed a law that prevents Kenya's Anti-Corruption Commission from investigating cases that occurred before it was created in 2003, essentially blocking probes into some of the country's most serious graft cases.

That move followed the lawmakers' recent decision to award themselves $22,000 bonuses after they leave office.

Considering that many members of parliament are themselves under investigation for corruption and that Kenyan lawmakers are already some of the best paid in the world, the move was unpopular.

Political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi says it seems clear that lawmakers are looking to protect themselves should voters oust them from their parliamentary seats in this year's election.

"Actually, they've become partners in crime and in this particular case, they are all agreed that, 'we need to ensure that this law is passed for purposes of giving ourselves amnesty,'" said Mr. Ngunyi. "This parliament, the ninth parliament, has been one of the most outrageous ones. A lot of those members of parliament have corruption cases pending in court, the whole bunch of them are protecting themselves so that they don't get prosecuted post-election and more so because they do not know what the results of the election will be."

While much of the blame for failing efforts to fight corruption lies with parliament, Mr. Kibaki's own government doesn't have an immaculate record.

In recent months, the president has rehired several ministers who were let go because of corruption allegations. And the president also appointed former President Daniel Arap Moi to be his envoy for peace efforts in Sudan. Just days later, Mr. Moi announced he would back Mr. Kibaki's bid for a second term.

The move was a surprise, because Mr. Kibaki's election victory was seen as a repudiation of the corruption of the Moi era. Yet Mr. Moi has been rehabilitated, and he seems to wield more power now than he has since his presidency.

Moreover, Mr. Kibaki's government has made no move to act on the findings of a confidential report about Mr. Moi that was leaked last month. The report from the Kroll risk consulting company found that Mr. Moi and his sons amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit wealth during Mr. Moi's 24-year rule.

Instead of promising to pursue the allegations, Mr. Kibaki's spokesman said the report was full of holes. On Friday, government spokesman Alfred Mutua argued that the parliament bill impeding the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission was the work of the opposition.

"The government believes that some members of the opposition are afraid of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and its investigations because of their past and ongoing corrupt activities," he said. "The government will not allow a few greedy people to take back Kenya into the abyss of corruption that we have so far successfully fought and are continuing to fight against."

Anti-corruption campaigners say that is an exaggeration. They say there are enough lawmakers allied with Mr. Kibaki that the bill could have been defeated had the government wanted to kill it.

They say the outcome is not surprising. When Mr. Kibaki came to power, he vowed to investigate one of the biggest scandals in Kenyan history, dubbed Goldenberg. According to the allegations, Mr. Moi's government came up with a complicated scheme to profit illegally from the re-export of gold and diamonds.

But once the investigation began in 2004, Mr. Kibaki was hit with his own corruption scandal, called Anglo-Leasing. Anti-corruption campaigner Mwalimu Mati says after that, Mr. Kibaki lost the power to root out past misdeeds.

"What happened, my assessment is, that in the pursuit of old corruption, not enough attention was paid on ensuring or insulating his own government from making its own mistakes, and clearly they did with the Anglo-leasing series of deals," said Mr. Mati. "So what essentially happened is, just at the point that they were completing their international tracing efforts, he gets himself embroiled in his own scandals and then lacks the moral authority to see it through."

Despite the parliament's decision, the fight against corruption may not be dead yet. Mr. Kibaki himself still must sign the bill. And the anti-corruption commission has long been derided as ineffective anyhow.

Paul Muite, a lawmaker who sat on the committee that devised the latest changes, says the uproar is misplaced. He says Kenya has an attorney general who can investigate past crimes.

"The impression created that looters cannot now be prosecuted is simply false," he noted. "The penal code, which has not been repealed, is available. Parliament and the committee have no wish to be made part of a charade or part of stage-managed shows of deception that there is any political will to fight corruption."

Muite may not be impartial. He also happens to be the lawyer for a former government minister who was being investigated by the anti-corruption commission.