President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to Attorney-General Paul Kariuki Kihara to speed up legislation on conflict of interest is a significant step in the fight against corruption.
It is a response to the widespread concern over duplicity of State officers, whose professional engagements entrench corruption and other malpractices.
Many public officers have taken advantage of a lacuna in law in regard to conflict of interest and engaged in practices that compromise their positions.
Thus, an express legal provision is crucial to seal this loophole. Experience with the implementation of the Constitution has demonstrated the folly of having broad legal provisions without detailed stipulations in statutes.
Chapter Six of the Constitution has provisions on selfless service to the public, which is expressly explained as follows: one, honesty in the execution of public duties, and two, declaration of any personal interest that may conflict with public duties.
Also, the chapter calls for accountability to the public for decisions and actions.
However, there are no statutory provisions and sanctions to enforce those. Thus they remain broad principles of intent, but without commensurate implementation guides.
The directive comes against a backdrop of public uproar over participation of senators Kipchumba Murkomen (Elgeyo Marakwet) and Mutula Kilonzo Junior (Makueni) in defending Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko charged in court over Sh357 million graft case.
Irrespective of their right to hold brief for clients, the case was delicate.
Conflict of interest arises when the senators, on one hand represent a governor in court and on the other, stand in Parliament to make decisions on cash allocation to the counties, which cash is later stolen, or crucially, probe the governor’s use of that cash.
A line must be drawn to bring clarity to this.
Also, the directive comes at a time when there is debate as to whether doctors in public service should engage in private practice.
For doctors, the argument is that there is nothing wrong if they practice at their own time.
But the disquiet emanates from the fact the doctors spend most of their time in private practice at the expense of public service.
Worse, some use public facilities for private clinical procedures.
President Kenyatta’s directive must be looked at critically. Corruption manifests itself in various ways.
When civil servants, public university lecturers, teachers and political leaders engage in private professional practice outside their stations, they are guilty of conflict of interest.
Thus, from the overt cases where senators and MPs hold brief for corrupt government officials, conflict of interest should be tackled through legislation, which must be developed through public participation.
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