Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki celebrated 41 years of independence by releasing almost 7,000 prisoners, vowing to strengthen his government's fight against corruption, praising the country's more than two percent growth rate and promising constitutional reform. Some critics see the president's speech as little more than public relations exercise.

A leading economic commentator in Kenya, Robert Shaw, told VOA Monday President Kibaki's weekend speech was meant to soothe a population weary of repeated corruption scandals, economic stagnation, a stalled constitutional reform process.

"I think this government is feeling a little bit under siege, so it takes such opportunities to try and impress upon people who are getting very cynical what they have done," he said. "There's a caveat to virtually to everything he talks about."

Mr. Shaw says the speech contains what he calls some very big questions. For instance, he says, while the government talks about fighting corruption, scandals involving top government officials go unresolved.

He said it is ironic that one of the 7,000 prisoners released from jail is Dr. Margaret Gachara, the former head of Kenya's National AIDS Control Council who was convicted of swindling hundreds of thousands out of the organization.

Transparency International reported last week three out of 10 Kenyans say they paid some form of a bribe within the past year, and ranked Kenya among the most corrupt.

The report also slammed the government for doing little or nothing about the country's many incidents of grand corruption at the highest levels.

Commentator Shaw also took a dim view of Kenya's economic growth, saying it is limited to agriculture. Kenya's economy as a whole, he says, is doing poorly.

"For the vast majority of Kenyans, the standard of living has spiraled down even further. The cost of living has gone up enormously," he said. "The cost of maize meal has gone up by 75 percent since this government took over."

But the Kenyan English-language daily, The Standard, took a more upbeat view of Kenya's economy, saying the government is on track to reaching its goal of five-percent annual growth within five years. It blamed bad weather and donors for Kenya's disappointing economic performance.

Constitutional reform is another sore spot with many Kenyans. When the current government was voted in at the end of 2002, it had promised quick changes in the constitution to enhance human rights and prevent abuse of power.

But two year later, political infighting has led to delays, sparking riots in Nairobi and the western Kenyan town of Kisumu in July.