The man county chiefs love to hate – Twalib Mbarak

Monday, September 14th, 2020 00:00 | By
EACC chief executive officer Twalib Mbarak. Photo/PD/File

Eric Wainaina @EWainaina

Despite the opulence and magnanimity that comes with the gubernatorial position, many governors are a worried lot. 

The “mini presidents”, as they are referred to, are living in fear not sure when their date with the revolving doors at Integrity Centre will come.

From alleged theft, arrogance, arbitrary firing of staff who are not politically correct, acquiring properties in swanky suburbs to assembling motorcades escorted by intimidating armed men and hooligans, governors who control about Sh400 billion annually have attained a high-flying position in society. 

But with the arrest of seven county bosses by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) - three of them within two weeks - over claims of presiding over corrupt administrations that have been milking county treasuries dry, governors are an increasingly worried lot after it emerged that at least 10 others are on the anti-graft body’s radar.

The county chiefs, through Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya, are crying foul over the arrests and being barred from accessing office following a High Court order, terming the moves as discriminatory and meant to destroy their reputation, an indication that the ongoing graft war in the counties is quickly ending their honeymoon. 

The soft-spoken EACC chief executive officer  Twalib Mbarak, who took office on January 14, 2019, seems to be the new sheriff in town who governors have come to dread, and pray hard that he does not include them in his list of those under investigations, due to his ruthless pursuit of looters of public money in the autonomous governments. 

Twalib has warned that some of the governors under investigations may not have nothing to celebrate during Chrismas because “several county chiefs are facing imminent arrest and prosecution before December, due to graft related claims” in the respective devolved units.

Greedy officials

“Our position is that all leaders must uphold the tenets of Chapter Six of our Constitution and in particular, Article 73 on the responsibility of leaders.

The governors must uphold integrity of their offices and use them to serve the people and not to steal from them.

There is nothing honourable in theft of public resources,” Twalib told People Daily, adding that corrupt people should be shamed.

He added: “Devolution has had significant successes in ensuring reasonable access to basic services at the grass-roots.

Despite the successes, there are challenges of some greedy county officials who have embezzled and diverted public resources for their selfish and personal benefit.”

Previously, especially in the first term when EACC says massive theft happened, governors rubbished corruption investigations as empty threats and Twalib’s breakdown during his vetting in Parliament, when he narrated his early life as well as his demeanour may have misled county chiefs that he would not bite hard.

EACC, he said at the weekend, had finalised more than 844 corruption related offences, which involvehigh-ranking officials including Cabinet Secretaries, governors, Principal Secretaries, Members of Parliament and managing directors of State corporations, a hint that it’s a matter of time before more governors and top government officials are arrested. 

Governors already in court are Tharaka Nithi’s Muthomi Njuki who was charged last week, Okoth Obado (Migori) who is also facing an impeachment, Moses Lenolkulal (Samburu), Mike Sonko (Nairobi) and Sospeter Ojamoong (Busia). 

Successfully impeached

All except the Busia county chief have been barred from accessing office while Garissa’s Ali Korane is expected in court this week.

Obado, while crying foul that his party, the Orange Democratic Movement, was taking advantage of his misfortunes to finish him by plotting to impeachment him has described his arrest over corruption as his “lowest moment.”

 “The much I know is that I was arrested on Wednesday and by Sunday, a meeting had been called.

I don’t want to regard that as a party meeting but I want to say, most likely that was a meeting of one or two people having some scores to settle with me, and saw a perfect opportunity when I was at my lowest, to deal with me once and for all,” Obado said last week.

Former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu made history as the first governor to be successfully impeached.

He was  charged id last year with theft of Sh588 million, former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero is also in court while Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) are among several county chiefs under investigation.

According to Twalib, governors made an undertaking last year to ensure public resources are safeguarded against theft but they never lived to it, as some of them have continued to squander public money, a culture he warned they have no choice but to stop.

“On October 31, 2019, EACC and the Council of Governors signed a Memorandum of Understanding to institutionalise a collaborative framework to support corruption prevention in the counties.

Under the framework, governors committed to champion corruption intolerance, fairness and servant leadership.

It is, therefore, unfortunate for some governors to still engage in blatant plunder of public resources,” said the CEO. 

“The extent of theft of public money in counties and other public institutions remains a concern to EACC and we assure the people of Kenya, that through concerted efforts, we shall overcome the menace of corruption in our country,” he added.

Away from the pomp exhibited by his successors who would gush threatening phrases like putting “big sharks and whales on notice” and “big fish. Small fish. Fat fish. Thin fish. 

All will be fried unapologetically at the pan of justice” and heavily publicising investigations, Twalib, though vicious, has adopted a modus operandi where he says little or nothing on ongoing probes until arrest orders are issued. This has served to make governors’ lives a nightmare.

“I don’t believe in shouting and theatrics about the progress we are making in the fight against corruption.

That is not the job we are given by the people of Kenya to do. We believe in doing our work justly and professionally so that at the end, it can speak for itself,” he said, adding that too much talk only earns someone short-term glorification and exposes your tactics and strategy to the enemy.

This, he said, helps the agency to protect witnesses from threats and intimidation by suspects, mitigate the risk of concealing and destroying evidence by suspects, as well as safeguards their processes from external influence such as politicisation of cases.

But in a statement that only serves to give governors and other corrupt individuals more reasons to fear, Twalib said he “hates corruption and any patriotic member of our country should shun, admonish and shame those involved in corruption as it destroys our social, economic and political fabric”.

Greatest responsibility

Already Twalib has indicated that the onslaught against graft in counties was part of EACC’s campaign to ensure the governor’s seat is no longer lucrative, because of potential theft of resources by ensuring that those who bear the greatest responsibility are held accountable for their acts and omission.

He has also been sending warnings to governors where there is a possibility of abuse of office, notably when he recently cautioned them against denying media advertisements over graft coverage and in March when he warned publicity-craving county chiefs against branding Covid-19 donations with their names and portraits.

So far, EACC, he said has issued over 400 advisories to counties and other public institutions to seal corruption loopholes and institutionalise ethics and integrity in their systems, noting that in the last five years, EACC has averted loss of approximately Sh21.9 billion through proactive investigation and disruption of corruption networks.

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