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Catholic church move to regulate political harambee cash welcome

GITAU WARIGIBy GITAU WARIGI
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The announcement by Kenya’s Catholic bishops that the Catholic Church will no longer accept cash donations from politicians is a welcome move in the fight to curb harambee money suspected to be from corruption proceeds. Though the bishops’ requirement that donations be made either through mobile money transfers or cheque payments will not entirely remove dirty money donations, it will help a great deal in accountability and transparency. Among those who have praised the decision is Ethics and Anti-Corruption CEO Twalib Mbarak.

DUBIOUS MONEY

Dubious money finding its way in churches has become a big issue these days. To its credit, the Catholic Church has on a number of occasions warned against the practice of diverting corruption-linked money to church harambees. The other mainstream church which had started on the right track was the Anglican Church when the archbishop, Jackson ole Sapit, banned political harambees in the church. But the decision was resisted by other Anglican church leaders who protested that it was hard to implement. As for the evangelical brethren, they have shown scant interest in keeping their distance from politicians laden with shady loot.

One obvious way for the churches to delink themselves from tainted money is to wean themselves from dependence on harambees presided over by politicians. They should explore other ways to fund their projects other than always relying on politicians. Within the church congregations are many businessmen and philanthropists who are ready to fund good causes championed by churches. The Catholic bishop for Murang’a diocese, James Maria Wainaina, not too long ago stopped harambees presided over by politicians in his diocese following an altercation in a Kiharu church between local MP Ndindi Nyoro and nominated MP Maina Kamanda. Though the stoppage was not permanent, it was a pointer that the church was willing to more closely scrutinise the guests it invited for its functions.

PUBLIC SCRUTINY

The protestations by some church leaders that banning political money is impractical because they have no way of knowing tainted cash evades the point. All what the churches are being asked to do is to establish the money’s provenance and source, which they can with a little effort.

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The Catholic bishops need to be commended for showing serious intent against corruption. Besides banning cash donations, the church faithful will also be required to declare their readiness to fight graft in their places of work. Furthermore, the bishops propose to open corruption desks in all Catholic churches in the country to track cases reported by the public. Follow-up will be key here. “We shall keep a record of any gift to a religious leader exceeding Sh50,000. All gifts should be acknowledged by a letter,” said the bishops who were meeting in Subukia in Nakuru county to launch their anti-corruption campaign. The church also promised to open accounts of their projects and any fundraising initiatives for public scrutiny.

OPENLY CAMPAIGN

I recall a time when the Catholic church did not allow political speeches in its churches. After Mass, lay speakers were only allowed to make church-related announcements or, occasionally, important administrative pronouncements relayed from chiefs. These days politicians have become so boisterous they openly carry out their campaigns in churches. The decision by the Catholic bishops to henceforth stop this practice is highly welcome.

Beyond churches and their struggles with dirty money, it is time the whole concept of harambees was revisited. Certain politicians who are most active in gracing church harambees seem to subscribe to the view that harambees can be the main agency of development in the country. This view is misplaced, and harks back to the era of Daniel arap Moi who believed endless rounds of harambee functions equated to all-round development. It took his successor, Mwai Kibaki, to disprove this notion when his administration discouraged such harambees. Moreover, the Kibaki government presided over a sharply improved economic climate by formulating a sound economic recovery programme.

I broadly support Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni’s wish to have harambees regulated. A Bill he has authored calls for special committees to keep a record of harambee cash that is collected. This will check embezzlement of such funds. Regulation will also help in tracking cases of possible money laundering. Kioni’s recommendations may be a bit too bureaucratic in their intended remedies, but they can be fine-tuned. Community harambees such as funeral and wedding fund-raisers can be exempted.

It is wonderful that the Treasury has banned aimless “benchmarking” and sightseeing trips overseas by government honchos. They add zero value to the taxpayer. There is a culture that has crept deep into government of wasting public money like it’s a birthright. Even former MPs now want to be part of the gravy train. The other day they were demanding to be paid a monthly pension of Sh100,000. The President must refuse to assent to any Bill Parliament signs to this effect.