Fed up with corruption, Kenyan president orders mass lie-detector tests

All government procurement officials in Kenya will have to undergo lie-detector tests in the next month, and will be suspended if they fail, the country’s president has said.

Uhuru Kenyatta made the unprecedented declaration on Friday, 1 June after 54 people, including the public service ministry’s principal secretary, were charged last week with stealing $100m from the National Youth Service (NYS), an agency that trains young people to work on projects ranging from construction to traffic control.

It is just the latest corruption scandal in the country, however, where alleged graft has disrupted major construction projects including a new terminal at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and a new office complex for the National Social Security Fund.

Earlier this year Israeli police arrested seven executives of Israeli infrastructure company Shikun & Binui on suspicion of bribing Kenyan officials for work.

The NYS scandal appears to have snapped the patience of the recently re-elected president, who has promised a "Big Four" development programme prioritising manufacturing, healthcare, affordable housing, and food security, which would be undermined by theft and bribery.

"All heads of procurement and accounts in government ministries, departments, agencies and parastatals will undergo fresh vetting including polygraph testing, to determine their integrity and suitability," Kenyatta tweeted Friday.

In a statement he added: "Those who shall fail the vetting (through lie-detector tests) will stand suspended. I expect this exercise to be concluded before the start of the new financial year (2018/2019)." The next financial year begins on 1 July.

The NYS case triggered protests in the capital Nairobi, where 200 people marched to protest against what they said were "high levels of corruption", Reuters reports.

Dozens of the NYS suspects remain at large, while 24 were arrested and pleaded not guilty in court on Tuesday.

Reuters notes that while Kenyatta pledged to stamp out graft when first elected in 2013, critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials. No high-profile convictions have occurred since he took office.

The president used an independence day speech on Friday in Meru County to lambast "predators" – public officials who, through "selfishness, greed and misuse of authorities", deny Kenyans public services and development. He likened the scourge of corruption to colonialism.

"Like colonialism was defeated, so will we defeat corruption," he said.

Photograph: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta speaking at the inauguration of Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo in Mogadishu in February 2017 (AMISOM Photo/Ilyas Ahmed/Creative Commons)

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