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Kenya's New President Creates Department to Fight Corruption - 2003-01-16

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has created a new department within his three-week-old government to deal specifically with the fight against corruption. The move comes as the International Monetary Fund considers resuming financial assistance to the poverty-stricken nation.

The new department is called the Governance and Ethics Department - a not so subtle reminder, Kenyans are already saying, of the relative lack of both good governance and ethics under the previous government of Daniel arap Moi.

The department will report directly to President Kibaki and keep him informed of the campaign to clean up decades of government corruption and mismanagement.

Spearheading the campaign, and the department, is John Githongo, 37, who will serve as the first permanent secretary of the department. Mr. Githongo is the former executive director of the Kenyan Office of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption organization.

Mr. Githongo said his first priority is to promote greater accountability and transparency in places where the public trust is at stake. "In the past, you had essentially corruption starting very high up in the leadership of the nation," he said. "The most pressing challenge is to sit back and look for ways of disentangling Kenya's political culture from corruption, like vast misappropriation of public resources for personal profit, but also for political purposes."

Efforts to uncover past misdeeds have already begun. The government has just launched a program to re-evaluate various public projects started by former President Daniel arap Moi. Officials say some of the costly and controversial projects started by the Moi government will be overhauled or canceled.

President Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition won a landslide victory in December 27 elections, ending decades of autocratic rule by Mr. Moi and his KANU party.

During his election campaign, Mr. Kibaki pledged to first root out corruption, which he called a disease that had hastened the decline of East Africa's largest economy. Two years ago, rampant corruption prompted the International Monetary Fund to suspend loans to Kenya indefinitely.

But there are already signs the government's anti-corruption drive is restoring international confidence. The head of the IMF for Africa, Abdoulaye Bio-Tchane, has been in Nairobi for several days of talks on resuming loans.

Mr. Kibaki has described the talks as positive, and says he is confident that aid will be fully restored. The IMF is expected to make a formal announcement about Kenya's status on Friday.