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Kenya May Reconsider Amnesty Proposal - 2001-08-27

The Kenyan government says it may reconsider a controversial proposal that would have granted amnesty to corrupt officials. The proposal was part of anti-corruption legislation that was defeated in parliament earlier this month.

The anti-corruption watchdog organization, Transparency International, hosted a forum in Nairobi to debate the way forward following the defeat earlier this month of a bill to set up an anti-corruption authority.

Kenya's Attorney General, Amos Wako, spent an hour defending the bill, which he drafted.

But the bill's opponents maintain that the legislation is flawed. They charge that the government is not sincere about tackling corruption. They say it only wants to pass the bill to unlock millions of dollars of donor money.

Donors suspended aid to Kenya last year after the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority was declared unconstitutional and closed down. Lending will not resume until legislation is put in place to allow it to carry on with its work.

There is widespread opposition in Kenya to Mr. Wako's bill because he wants to grant an amnesty for economic crimes committed before 1997.

At the meeting, Mr. Wako announced that he is now prepared to amend the amnesty clause if it will help the bill get through Parliament.

"I myself knew the issue of amnesty was going to be very controversial," he said. "So I included that clause there but it is not the final clause. As you know, when we publish a bill we want people to comment on it. And as a result of that comment we can amend the bill. And that's why I've appealed today, let us discuss this issue of amnesty with soberness so that we can come to an agreement or a consensus to which all Kenyans subscribe. I am prepared to comment an amendment of the amnesty clause if that will facilitate Kenyans coming together to agree on the way forward. I am prepared to do that."

Many Kenyans say amnesty can only be granted on the condition that the accused confess and put the stolen money back into public coffers.

By law, the bill to revive the anti-corruption authority cannot be reintroduced for another six months.

John Githongo, executive director of Transparency International says he worries that peoples' attention will have shifted to the election by then.

"I think the biggest obstacle that lies ahead in the fight against corruption is the fact that the entire country is about to switch into a different mode now," he said. "Kenyans will become over the next 16 months focused primarily on the elections, on the presidential succession and on this huge transition that Kenya is going through. That's our greatest fear, that people are going to be distracted by other things, which are themselves sustained by corruption."

After 24 years in power, President Daniel arap Moi is constitutionally bound to retire at the next election, due by December 2002. The ruling party fears that if the opposition win, they will use the anti-corruption authority to start a witch-hunt against the current regime.