Economy

Wealth of President, top State officers to be made public


uhuru

President Uhuru Kenyatta. PHOTO | PSCU

The wealth of top State officials — including the President and his deputy — will be made public if MPs accept a fresh bid to change the law on lifestyle audits.

The Lifestyle Audit Bill, 2021 is seeking to remove restrictions on Kenyans seeking to access information on income, assets and liabilities of persons holding public office as part of efforts to fight corruption.

This is the second attempt to remove the restrictive clause that denies the public access to the information on the riches of State officers after a similar Bill was time-barred.

The proposed law requires that the self-declared wealth declaration forms be made easily available to the public through a website or in an unrestricted database hosted by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

“The contents of a declaration or clarification (on income, assets and liabilities) under this Act shall be accessible to the public,” says the Bill.

Of particular interest will be the wealth of the President and his entire Cabinet, MPs and Senators, top county officials, executives of State-owned firms and other senior civil servants whose role in the theft of billions of shillings in taxpayer money has been flagged in audit reports.

At present, public officers are expected to declare their wealth every two years, but the information contained in the wealth declaration forms remains confidential and can only be accessed by those in pursuit of public interest.

This restriction will be eliminated if MPs adopt the proposed law that is before the Senate. A similar Bill was tabled in Parliament in 2019, but was dropped after it failed to meet the timeline set for review of proposed changes to the law.

Members of Parliament are required to debate and pass any Bill tabled within a single session (a calendar year).

Bills that are not debated and approved within a session must be submitted afresh for debate.

The Bill seeks to repeal section 30 of Public Officer Ethics Act of 2003 that restricts access to information on the wealth of public officers. The review of the wealth disclosure law seeks to increase transparency in the public sector and curb the practice where influential State employees enrich themselves through scandals involving bogus tenders and suppliers.

The Lifestyle Audit Bill, sponsored by nominated Senator Farhiya Ali Haji, primarily seeks to entrench integrity in the public service and offer guidelines on vetting of State officers suspected to be living beyond their known income.

“There is no legal framework on how a lifestyle audit is to be carried out on a public or a State officer who is suspected to be living beyond that person’s lawful income,” Ms Haji argues in the Bill.

Persons under lifestyle investigations will be required to provide information on the spouses and offspring (whether adult or children), list of assets and companies owned by the public servants and members of their family.

“Lifestyle audit may be carried out on the immediate family of a public or a State officer if it is established that a property in question is owned by the public or State officer or members of their immediate family, including joint ownership,” the Bill says.

Giving false or misleading information will attract a fine of at least Sh5 million or a two-year jail term or both if the Bill is enacted into law.

Mr Kenyatta has over the years backed lifestyle audits on holders of public office to curb corruption, which former EACC chairman Philip Kinisu estimated in March 2016 gulps down about a third of the national Budget every year.

The President in June 2018 said all public servants, including himself, would be subjected to lifestyle audits.



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