Following a series of major corruption controversies, the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a new anti-corruption drive earlier this month. On 1 September, Kenyatta launched a new scheme to biometrically register all civil servants in a bid to end the phenomenon of “ghost workers” – dead or non-existent workers who nonetheless draw government salaries. According to a government audit, such scams currently cost the government around $1 million a month.
President Kenyatta also announced the launch of a new website, www.president.go.ke/report-corruption, which enables ordinary Kenyans to upload evidence of corruption “directly” to the president. Through the site, Kenyans can anonymously share videos, documents and photos. The President has said that he hopes that these measures will encourage Kenyans to speak out about the corruption that they experience in their everyday lives. At present, Transparency International estimate that only about 3% of Kenyans do so.
The new measures were introduced after embarrassing corruption scandals undermined progress on two of the government’s flagship projects: the provision of one laptop to every child, and the construction of a Standard Gauge railway linking Nairobi and Mombasa. However, commentators have questioned how effective the new measures will be.
Given that most Kenyans do not report corruption, and the government has a poor track record of impartially investigating corruption allegations, it is unclear whether the opportunity to upload evidence “directly” to the president will prove to be attractive to a skeptical audience. Critics have accused the president of “window dressing”, pointing out that there is already considerable evidence of wrongdoing in the “one laptop” and “Standard Gauge railway” projects and yet little action has been taken.
Moreover, although “ghost workers” represent a significant drain on government resources, the most economically damaging form of corruption occurs through other processes, most notably import/export scams and procurement deals. Biometric registration and the launch of a new website are unlikely to impact significantly on this elite corruption, which typically involves a small number of individuals operating behind closed doors and takes some time to make it into the public eye.