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Kenya Suffers Blow to Foreign Aid Request - 2001-08-11

Kenya's chances of receiving foreign aid suffered a major upset on Wednesday when rebel parliamentarians blocked a key anti-graft bill. A prominent lawyer is accusing the government of deliberately sabotaging the bill to protect corrupt officials.

Kenya's parliament next Tuesday will get its third and final chance this year to pass a bill to re-establish the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority, or KACA. Donors insist the anti-corruption watchdog be set up before they resume lending to Kenya. Aid was suspended last year after KACA was declared unconstitutional by Kenya's Court of Appeals and closed down.

Economists warn the economy could go into free-fall without donor aid. Kenya is already experiencing its worse recession since independence in 1963. But the bill's opponents say these fears do not matter.

Gibson Kamau Kuria, former chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, says Kenya's economy will not recover until it starts cracking down on corruption in government. "I don't believe that it is important for a bad bill to be passed because it will be as good as no bill," he said. "Both sides of the House want an effective KACA. What they've been given is a lame duck. They would be making the country a laughing stock if they pass that. It's true that the country needs money but it only needs money so that it can perform well. And it can't perform without an effective anti-corruption authority and none is going to come out of this bill."

Parliamentarians argue that the bill is flawed because KACA will not be independent. Kenya's Attorney General, the country's most senior lawyer, will have the final say over prosecutions. Mr. Kuria says it is politically impossible for the Attorney General to prosecute his cabinet colleagues because he does business with them everyday.

When the bill was first rejected by parliament earlier this year, the Law Society of Kenya sent its own draft to the government, giving KACA the power to prosecute independently from the Attorney General. But the government has still not eliminated a constitutional conflict between KACA and the Attorney General in the second version.

Mr. Kuria says the government is deliberately producing flawed bills to fool the donors into releasing aid. "It is not the technical expertise which is lacking because the Law Society has drafted a bill that can work. What is lacking is political will. To put it bluntly, the government, which the AG [Attorney General] serves does not want an effective anti-corruption authority. I'm telling you that as the chairman I've forwarded a bill that works. So it is deliberate. It is a political choice," says Mr. Kuria. "I think that the government has over the years underrated the intelligence of the donors and the World Bank and IMF [International Monetary Fund]. And so they thought that if they have this bill, an ineffective authority will be there and they will be able to wash their hands and say well, we have an authority, it's not working, it's not our problem. And they will discover that after money has been released."

If the bill is passed on Tuesday, Parliament will then be asked to vote for another donor-initiated anti-corruption bill. The Economic Crimes Bill is also facing stiff opposition because it seeks to give amnesty to all economic crimes prior to 1997.