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Kenya Blasts Britain for Corruption Speech - 2004-07-14

Kenya's foreign affairs minister lashed out at the British High Commissioner Wednesday for his scathing criticism of corruption in Kenya. The Kenyan official was reacting to comments the British diplomat made on Tuesday.

Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Chirau Ali Makwere told reporters the British High Commissioner's speech to a business group was inaccurate and inflammatory and should have been made directly to the government through regular diplomatic channels.

Sir Edward Clay told business leaders Tuesday that Kenya's development was hampered by what he called a "giant looting spree," and that corruption accounts for eight percent of Kenya's gross domestic product.

He said donors feel let down because the government has broken its promise to tackle Kenya's long-standing corruption practices.

While donors never expected the complete eradication of corruption, Mr. Clay said, they are disappointed at the size of graft that still exists. He said, since taking power in December 2002, the current government has been involved in corrupt deals totaling nearly $200 million.

Kenya's foreign minister challenged Mr. Clay to provide proof of Kenya's corrupt practices.

"The government of Kenya would like the High Commissioner to substantiate the allegations he has made to avoid misleading Kenyans and the international community at large," he said.

Mr. Makwere denied government corruption is rampant, and listed a number of measures it has taken to combat dishonest practices, which include reforms of the judiciary and the enactment of anti-corruption legislation.

The foreign minister called Mr. Clay to his office Wednesday for an explanation, but neither side would comment after their 30-minute meeting.

Mr. Clay's speech followed on the heels of a scandal in which the government granted a foreign firm a public contract worth tens of millions of dollars to construct a police forensic laboratory and deliver passports and visas.

The deal fell through, but it had emerged that several government officials would have received huge kickbacks from the contractor.

Britain is not alone in speaking out against the corruption in Kenya. In recent weeks, the United States and Japan also called on the Kenyan government to step up its anti-corruption campaign.