The Problem With Lifestyle Audits

Uhuru Kenyatta recently announced that all government officials and their families would undergo a lifestyle audit as part of his war on corruption, starting in July 2018. This would include him and his deputy, William Ruto. Those found guilty of corruption would be sent to jail regardless of their status, and he would not intervene, he said. Days later, his partner in handshake matters and People’s President Raila Odinga said that he and his ODM Party would no longer serve as whistleblowers, but instead they would partner with Kenyatta in the war on corruption. He too would undergo the lifestyle audit.

Lifestyle audits are tests that tend to be used by forensic auditors to determine whether a person’s lifestyle matches up with their known income stream(s). Because corruption, fraud and money laundering tend to leave little to no paper trail, they are difficult to detect, and many times only a sudden, inexplicable shift in lifestyle can signal to them. For example, Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Achesa believes that Raila Odinga needs to explain how he built a KES 1 billion home in Kisumu while he was Prime Minister, when his monthly salary was KES 1.2 million and his mortgage was KES 40 million. Allies of William Ruto have come out to claim that this audit targets him, and politicians such as Kimpchumba Murkomen have claimed the exercise will expose politicians as “poor”, and no one likes a poor politician.

Indicators of lifestyle tend to be public: the houses, cars, companies and properties one owns, one’s entertainment preferences, the schools one’s children attend, the size of one’s bank accounts and the transactions through these accounts, among others. However, even then, this cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of fraud, corruption or money laundering – it is merely an indicator, and sometimes the person being audited can explain it.

During the police vetting exercise, for example, one police officer said he was worth KES 20 million because he relied on loans. Another said he was wealthy because he was paid to escort a Hindu god around town for religious processions, while others credited their hardworking wives. It is also not unheard of for people to claim having inherited large sums of money. It is worth noting that this exercise has yet to be completed, and that no police officer has been prosecuted yet as a result of a lifestyle incongruous with their income (although some have been sacked). And yet, this does not ensure justice to the people of Kenya, and it goes against our constitution.

Chapter Six of the Constitution of Kenya (2010) speaks about leadership and integrity. The guiding principles of leadership and integrity include selection on the basis of personal integrity, competence and suitability, or election in free and fair elections; objectivity and impartiality in decision making, and in ensuring that decisions are not influenced by nepotism, favouritism, other improper motives or corrupt practices; selfless service based solely on the public interest (demonstrated by: honesty in the execution of public duties; the declaration of any personal interest that may conflict with public duties); accountability to the public for decisions and actions; and discipline and commitment in service to the people.

State officers are expected to behave whether in public and official life, in private life, or in association with other persons, in a manner that avoids any conflict between personal interests and public or official duties; compromising any public or official interest in favour of a personal interest; or demeaning the office the officer holds. A person who contravenes this shall be subject to the applicable disciplinary procedure for the relevant office; and may, in accordance with the disciplinary procedure referred to in paragraph (a), be dismissed or otherwise removed from office. A person who has been dismissed or otherwise removed from office for a contravention of the provisions specified is disqualified from holding any other State office. It further states that a State officer shall not maintain a bank account outside Kenya except in accordance with an Act of Parliament; or seek or accept a personal loan or benefit in circumstances that compromise the integrity of the State officer.

In addition to the constitution, we have the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act, Public Officers Ethics Act, Income Tax Act, Leadership and Integrity Act, and Proceeds of Crimes and Money Laundering Act, among others acts of parliament that dictate the conduct of public officers and other citizens, and define financial impropriety and its legal outcomes.

Given that these are the dictates of our constitution, and that there are other laws that have been passed to enforce these dictates, it is a wonder that the police officers sacked after the lifestyle audit/vetting exercise have not been taken to court, and it serves as an indicator of the outcomes of Uhuru Kenyatta’s vetting exercise. Some people who are implicated in this process may argue that they are being victimized, and that their constitutional right to own property is being contravened.

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the body that would be tasked with investigating those found to be inexplicably living beyond their means, itself worked hard to stop its staff from being vetted. How can it be relied upon to investigate these public servants and take them to court? Vetting of the staff at the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) also stalled after junior staff threatened to expose the dealings of senior staff. Before the 2017 General Election, over 100 people running for office were found to have failed the standards of leadership and integrity. They were not barred from running. There is simply no political will to carry through with these exercises, and one wonders why that would suddenly change.

For as long as we rely on such gimmickry instead of enforcing a culture of servant leadership and integrity in public service as envisioned in our constitution, we will continue to find ourselves here, because the proceeds of corruption far outweigh the costs in Kenya.

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