Pandora Papers: Time to separate fiction from truth
By David Kigochi
One of the nagging questions Kenyans have been silently asking is how much their national and county leaders are worth and how much they pay as taxes.
The absence of the information has given room to all manner of speculations about their leaders’ wealth.
A huge chunk of the population believes the leaders have stashed billions of shillings in foreign countries which they have stolen from the national coffers.
The rumuor mills even claim over Sh3 trillion of stolen funds are stashed in foreign banks by past and current leaders.
Though the Constitution requires State officials – including the President – to declare their wealth every two years, the information remains confidential and can only be accessible by those in pursuit of public interest.
The absence of this information on leaders’ wealth has sparked all sorts of rumours on how much they own, some legally and others illegally.
It was this anomaly that the Lifestyle Audit Bill, 2021 which is before parliament is seeking to address by removing restrictions on Kenyans seeking to access information on income, assets and liabilities of persons holding public office as part of efforts to fight corruption.
The Bill marks 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.
It is heartening to note that the proposed law will require the leaders’ self-declared wealth 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).
But this week, the debate on our leaders’ wealth resurfaced after the release of Pandora Papers authored by a consortium of global journalists.
It is refreshing to note that President Uhuru Kenyatta positively responded to the revelations of the hidden wealth of billionaires published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ).
The President in a statement said the report which implicates members of the first family in having offshore accounts will enhance financial transparency and openness in Kenya and globally.
The Pandora Papers named President Kenyatta and members of his family among dozen world leaders as secretly owning a network of offshore companies.
The allegations range from corruption to money laundering and tax avoidance.
Although holding assets offshore or using shell companies is not illegal in most countries, including Kenya, the revelations puts Uhuru on the spot as he has been pushing austerity measures besides campaigning against corruption.
As Farmers Party, we submit it is time the authorities made public records of top officials having offshore accounts.
The discloser should include the offshore accounts of top leaders’ spouses, children, immediate relatives and even subordinate staff, if they have them.
While it is not illegal under the Constitution to have an offshore account, Kenyans need to know the identities of public officials who have such accounts and the manner of business they engage in.
Most ordinarily Kenyans take any mention of a foreign bank account by a public official as simply conduit for hiding looted funds.
However, there are honest public officials and prominent families who engage in legitimate business, such imports and exports, and hence their offshore accounts are there to simplify transactions.
For Uhuru, the revelations offer his family an opportunity to demonstrate they have been engaged in legitimate business since independence.
We recall that in 2018, Uhuru told the BBC Hardtalk Programme that his family's wealth was known to the public, and as president he had declared his assets as required by law.
With the release of the Pandora Papers, it is time senior government officials including President and Deputy President William Ruto disclose whether they have offshore accounts and the manner of business they engage in, if they have such accounts.
The discloser will enhance transparency which is an important principle of good governance.
The discloser will also end the rumours that the top leaders have stashed billions of shillings in foreign banks.
It will also boost the war on corruption which tops Uhuru’s legacy to ensure resources are directed to the right projects.
With the discloser, claims by suspects in graft cases that their prosecution is skewed because of their political persuasion or tribes will be a thing of the past.
The discloser will also inform the voters while picking the leaders to only go for those who can account for their riches, not the criminals.
The writer is the Farmers Party leader