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These are defining moments as new war on graft picks up pace

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By ROBERT SHAW
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Kenyans have been treated to a September full of action and intrigue.

The ongoing retribution taking place in the vital Mau forest and its ecosystem is one. EACC’s purge on the rundown Pyrethrum Board of Kenya (PBK), ending in the arrest of its managing director, is another. Coupled with this is EACC’s investigations into the wayward financial management and affairs of Nairobi City County.

Then there is President Uhuru Kenyatta’s informed decision to cancel the expensive and highly flawed Kimwarer dam project and downscale the Arror one.

The cynics say we are living in interesting times, but we need to wait and see if this is just belated damage limitation or whether things will really change and improve — or not.

Considering the copious empty promises, hollow rhetoric and false starts Kenyans have been subjected to before, it is not surprising that many view these remedial actions with a jaundiced and cynical eye. But the more optimistic of us see them as genuine and positive attempts at arresting or taming the plunder that has taken place.

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Of course these are early days, only the beginning of a process that has a number of stages and obstacles to go through.

Getting someone who is charged to be actually convicted, sentenced and driven away in a green prison van is a long and often laborious journey.

Let us examine all three in more detail to see if these are mere exercises in motion or there is action and progress.

The Mau story is a depressing and miserable tale of licentious greed and plunder. Twenty-five years ago, I wrote in the Nation: “Why Kenya’s looting brigade now has its eye on public land”. Then, it was regarded as a little too bold and controversial and took some time to be published.

When I read it now and compare it to what has taken place in the Mau, it appears relatively tame though the theme is the same: The plunder and seizure of public property and turning it into private gain.

In the Mau, we’re talking of the largest indigenous montane forest in East Africa and source of several vital rivers. It’s not only an invaluable ecological resource, but also a great source of livelihood to many who rely on the rivers.

The illegal allocations followed by mowing of a large chunk of the forest cover was akin to dismembering the lungs of a body. What is taking place now is an attempt at stopping the mutilation and, in time, hopefully restore the relevant impaired organs.

What took place in the Mau was a massive State-aided land grab of the largest kind ever conducted in Kenya. Last week’s arrest of PBK boss Paul Lolwerikoi was the latest in an increased number of actions by a more effective graft watchdog.

EACC is progressing with a number of investigations that are likely to lead to prosecution. It will be crucial to see if the investigations and subsequent prosecutions are supported by enough convincing evidence to culminate in more convictions.

Again, it is early days. But the signs are that EACC is showing some teeth and that it is ready to use them. If this is the case then, this is, indeed, a pivotal transformation of an institution with a rather lacklustre history.

The President’s executive decision on Kimwarer and Arror is welcome and commendable.

These two dam projects raised many red flags and are subject to court cases against several individuals, including former National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich.

Not only are there queries about whether the procedure was followed in approving the project, but there is the question of why so much money was released for arguably expensive projects that had not started. Even today, there is very little to show for the billions of shillings that have been paid out.

As important is the question as to whether both projects would provide the services that were actually required.

The country is awash with overpriced projects, often of questionable value. Why this decision was pivotal is because it has, albeit belatedly, stopped a project that had so many red flags on it and downscaled another to a more realistic size.

Hopefully, this is the beginning of a major project reappraisal exercise. If so, then, it will be very welcome.

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