Once upon a time, in 2006, former Ethics Permanent Secretary John Githongo, when he was trying to slay the Anglo Leasing dragon, became the king of metaphors as he hunted for the nameless and faceless individuals who were operating some offshore briefcase companies that were milking Kenya’s treasury.
As he was being dismissed by his critics as a traitor, and as a whistle-blower by his admirers, he lamented loudly how the Mwai Kibaki government, though elected on an anti-corruption ticket, ended up with egg on its face – thanks to inheriting the multi-billion shilling scandal.
“Kanu handed us a skunk and we took it home as a pet,” he said. “Not only did we assume the dubious transactions of the past, we used the same corrupt model to create our own shady deals. If you take a skunk home as a pet, it is yours together with its disturbing fragrance.”
The ghosts of Anglo Leasing returned this week as billionaire Jimi Wanjigi, one of the people mentioned in Githongo’s Anglo Leasing dossier and in parliamentary proceedings over the scandal, was said to be one of the brains behind the formation and financing of Raila Odinga’s National Super Alliance.
But ever since Nation articles questioned why Nasa was accepting financing from Wanjigi, the Jubilee Party and Nasa politicos have been at loggerheads dismissing each other’s’ outfit as citadels of graft cartels. Both are not far from the truth.
Interestingly, the story of Wanjigi’s role in funding the Nasa campaigns has not been denied, and two days later he majestically walked into the party’s launch of its five year manifesto hobnobbing with bigwigs and friends. At first, the Wanjigi factor had been met with a mute response until the Jubilee Party’s William Ruto, the man who introduced Wanjigi to Musyoka, entered the fray and set the political cat among the pigeons.
Nasa decided to react, both in political rallies and in a statement.
“There is no prohibition against political leaders meeting Kenyans and receiving assistance from them if they have no charges against them. And while we appreciate the support we receive from many people, Nasa is not receiving large amounts of money from any one person,” Salim Lone, adviser of Odinga, the Orange Democratic Movement presidential candidate Odinga, said in a statement.
Ever since Kanu started seeking funding from businessmen to finance its campaigns in the 1990s, the practice has seen a huge number of oligarchs and their moneyed clans line up every election year to finance campaigns. As usual, and like in many other emerging democracies, politicians never question the extraordinary wealth of donors.
Students of political science perhaps may recall remarks by Ukraine’s Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych when he was asked about a big donor to his party: “If God gave certain individuals business talents, then what is most important is that this talent goes toward the greater good of the country and the people who live there”.
The Jubilee Party on the other hand has been attacking Nasa and deriding its zero-tolerance on corruption ticket as wishful thinking. “They are funded by Anglo Leasing cartels,” charged Deputy President Ruto.
But this was a classic case of kettle calling the pot black, but to the credit of both sides they have inadvertently brought to the fore an issue that had been ignored: the nexus between campaign financing and corruption.
While it is true Wanjigi has never been convicted of any crime and both Odinga and Musyoka say he is simply a Nairobi businessman, his role in formulating scandalous projects has not been rebutted.
The Wanjigi factor within Nasa has caused ruckus among the leftists within the party. This week, some civil society members who consult for Nasa alerted newsrooms of the projects that were in a separate manifesto and which they feared could later be scandalous if the matter was not publicised early.
That these insiders do not know how to handle the billionaire is illustrative of the influence that he has within the party. And that explains why there is studious silence on campaign financing from the erstwhile loud civil society mandarins who would have otherwise put perspective into the emerging issues.
In other countries, it is the civil society that normally stays at the forefront urging political parties to run clean campaigns and exposing the causal connection between secret funding and corruption as well as the weakening of democratic practice.
But both Nasa and the Jubilee Party are opaque on their campaign financing and thrive under a veil of secrecy on who oils their political wagons and with what interest. And like Nasa, the Jubilee Party has also not come clean on its financiers, some of whom have been implicated in scandals.
The world over, the place of wealthy donors in influencing politics has been known. For instance, in 2006 a scandal emerged in Britain after it was established that its three largest parties were too dependent on a handful of wealthy donors and some of them were buying knighthoods.
For instance, during the 2005 British General Election campaign, the Labour Party was found to have secretly received a £14m loan while the Conservative Party had received £16m. The Liberal Democrats said they borrowed £850,000 from three backers.
These days, and after that scandal, the United Kingdom’s Electoral Commission publishes details of any donations of more than £7,500.
In other countries, the law bans candidates from receiving donations from private corporations and public sector companies. But in Kenya, that window was left open. In France, for instance, it has since 1995 banned candidates and parties from receiving such funding and put a cap on how much a presidential candidate can get.
But in a country where there is a tiny number of millionaires and hundreds of hungry party activists hoping to get a slice of the campaign millions, it becomes a tricky balance between getting money from dubious sources and running on empty.
Elections are expensive. If you remember the recent US Presidential election Hillary Clinton spent a whopping $1.2 billion while the victor Donald Trump spent $647 million. These campaigns were sponsored through donations from rich business people, some of whom contributed more than $20 million each, which is enough to run a presidential campaign in Kenya.
The only difference is that the donors are known and no presidential candidate can accept donations from shady characters. It is instructive to note that France’s electoral code imposes constraints on the total costs of an election and the amount an individual can donate to the candidates.
“The rule is intended to prevent them from gaining unjust political influence as well as to ensure equality of opportunity, Marcus Obrecht, a political analyst at the University of Freiburg in Germany, told Germany’s public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle in May.
The poser in Kenya is that the billions raised by political parties to finance their campaigns are not reflected in their audited accounts.
When you look at the documents filed with the Registrar of Political parties you find that all political parties underreport their incomes – and fail to capture the billions of shillings that they raise privately and from million-a-plate dinner public parties held to finance the campaigns.
The only money captured by most of the parties is the funding from the government. In Kenya, there was a loophole left in the law that while it banned cash funding by foreigners, it allowed in-kind donations. That’s because political parties as entities cannot receive money that goes through the various foundations set up by politicians.
In the last elections, it is independently estimated that the two main contestants – Uhuru Kenyatta and Odinga – used in excess of Sh10 billion. This money was never reflected in their party audited reports although the law demands accounts should include donations in “cash and in kind”.
The reason we might never know how much businessmen are bankrolling political parties is because the Political Parties Act bars an individual or organisation from contributing more than five per cent of the total expenditure of a political party in any year. Because of that politicians retain the money donated to their party lest they are caught breaking the law.
While the Campaign Financing Act was passed in 2013, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission did not submit the rules to Parliament for approval at least 12 months before an election, as required under Section 5. As of now, we have no tangible rules governing the financing aspect of our campaigns.
While Kenyatta’s campaign is largely funded by his family and wealthy central Kenya tycoons, Odinga relies on his various networks in international circles to raise funds.
The Nasa leader runs three separate foundations: Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation, Green Outreach Foundation and Raila Odinga Centre, all “non-political, non-profit” according to their separate websites.
Kalonzo Musyoka runs the partly political Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation, whose stated objective is to “encourage good governance” and “working for the development of democratic societies”.
The separate foundations are known to receive funding from Jennifer Lu, the daughter of a Chinese billionaire who runs Hope Africa Foundation together with her rich father Lu Junqing, who heads the World Eminent Chinese Businessmen Association, in which Musyoka is an honorary chairman.
Both the Jubilee Party and Nasa have taken the practice from Kanu which used to get its campaign money from wheeler dealers. Kanu at one point relied on Goldenberg’s illegal compensation loot and swindling of major parastatals to finance its campaigns through the Youth for Kanu 92 led by Cyrus Jirongo and with William Ruto as Executive Officer.
In the ongoing Samuel Gichuru case in the Island of Jersey, the British tax haven, one of the companies is to tell the court that it provided money to fund the elections. “Gichuru asked one contractor to put something…which would support our next elections. That contractor records indicate the money was paid to SG Mafia.”
Account books of the once giant coffee miller Kenya Planters Co-operative Union show that the farmers’ body donated cash to Kanu for its 2002 campaign and so did many parastatals including the Kenya Reinsurance Corporation, which bought nonexistent land for Sh500 million.
Wheeler-dealers such as Kamlesh Pattni are known to have donated some of their loot to finance both Kanu and the Opposition alike. That is how vocal Kabete MP Paul Muite became the focus of the commission of inquiry into the Goldenberg scandal over a Sh20 million payment made to him and the leader of Opposition, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, in 1993.
When the British newspapers reported on the British American Tobacco scandal in Kenya, Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua admitted to receiving Sh2 million from a BAT man, which she took as a “personal donation” to her presidential campaign. Paul Hopkins, the man who gave the money to Narc Kenya, said it was a “bribe” to influence policy and the British Independent newspaper claimed that the amount paid by BAT to the party leader, a former Justice Minister, was £50,000 (Sh7.6 million). The aim: to prevent a rival company supplying Kenya with technology to combat cigarette smuggling. Karua acknowledged receiving Sh2 million but said it was not a bribe. But a check on the filed Narc Kenya accounts indicate that this money was not disclosed which means senior politicians do not disclose all donations or that political parties run other parallel accounts for their presidential campaigns which are never disclosed to the Registrar of Political Parties.
Another funder of political activities in Kenya is billionaire George Soros. Loved and hated in equal measure wherever his Open Society Foundation operates, Soros is the lifeline of various civil society groups that operate in Kenya and has a great influence on our politics and elections.
When the issue of campaign financing emerges, the kettle calls the pot black. We have no saints in between.